Public reaction to direct-to-consumer online genetic tests: Comparing attitudes, trust and intentions across commercial and conventional providers

Christine Critchley, Dianne Nicol, Margaret Otlowski, Don Chalmers

The success of personalised medicine depends upon the public’s embracing genetic tests. Tests that claim to predict an individual’s future health can now be accessed via online companies outside of conventional health regulations. This research assessed the extent to which the public embrace direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests relative to those obtained by a conventional medical practitioner (MP). It also examined the reasons for differences across providers using a randomised experimental telephone survey of 1000 Australians. Results suggest that people were significantly less likely to approve of, and order a DTC genetic test administered by a company compared to a MP because they were less trusting of companies’ being able to protect their privacy and provide them with access to genetic expertise and counselling. Markets for DTC genetic tests provided by companies would therefore significantly increase if trust in privacy protection and access to expertise are enhanced through regulation.



Analogies, metaphors, and wondering about the future: Lay sense-making around synthetic meat

Afrodita Marcu, Rui Gaspar, Pieter Rutsaert, Beate Seibt, David Fletcher, Wim Verbeke, Julie Barnett

Drawing on social representations theory, we explore how the public make sense of the unfamiliar, taking as the example a novel technology: synthetic meat. Data from an online deliberation study and eighteen focus groups in Belgium, Portugal and the UK indicated that the various strategies of sense-making afforded different levels of critical thinking about synthetic meat. Anchoring to genetic modification, metaphors like ‘Frankenfoods’ and commonplaces like ‘playing God’ closed off debates around potential applications of synthetic meat, whereas asking factual and rhetorical questions about it, weighing up pragmatically its risks and benefits, and envisaging changing current mentalities or behaviours in order to adapt to scientific developments enabled a consideration of synthetic meat’s possible implications for agriculture, environment, and society. We suggest that research on public understanding of technology should cultivate a climate of active thinking and should encourage questioning during the process of sense-making to try to reduce unhelpful anchoring.


The politics of buzzwords at the interface of technoscience, market and society: The case of ‘public engagement in science’

Bernadette Bensaude Vincent

Emerging technologies such as genomics, nanotechnology, and converging technologies are surrounded by a constellation of fashionable stereotyped phrases such as ‘public engagement in science’, ‘responsible innovation’, ‘green technology’, or ‘personalised medicine’. Buzzwords are ubiquitous and used ad libitum by science policy makers, industrial companies in their advertisements, scientists in their research proposals, and journalists. Despite their proliferation in the language of scientific and technological innovation, these buzzwords have attracted little attention among science studies scholars. The purpose of this paper is to try to understand if, and how buzzwords shape the technoscientific landscape. What do they perform? What do they reveal? What do they conceal? Based on a case study of the phrase ‘public engagement in science’, this paper describes buzzwords as linguistic technologies, capable of three major performances: buzzwords generate matters of concern and play an important role in trying to build consensus; they set attractive goals and agendas; they create unstable collectives through noise.


How Natural Is “More Natural”? The Role of Method, Type of Transfer, and Familiarity for Public Perceptions of Cisgenic and Transgenic Modification

Nicole Kronberger, Wolfgang Wagner, Motohiko Nagata

A frequent expert assumption is that the public will consider cisgenics more “natural” and therefore more acceptable than transgenics. Experimental (Studies 1 and 2) and representative survey (Eurobarometer) data highlight that public concerns indeed are stronger when the boundaries of species are crossed. However, genetic combinations that could come into existence naturally are not always considered unproblematic. Human intervention in the process amplifies concern while familiarity with the method and its products explains little of the variance. Although cisgenics is more supported than transgenics, a majority of respondents across countries considers cisgenic products to be genetically modified food that must be labeled.