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The public opinion climate for gene technologies in Canada and the United States: competing voices, contrasting frames

[journal article]

Priest, Susanna Hornig

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Abstract This exploratory study of Canadian and US public opinion about gene technologies is based primarily on survey data collected by the Government of Canada, with media data from a widely available commercial database (LexisNexis) used in an illustrative case study of the apparent resonance between the climate of opinion and media frames in different regions of the two countries. The study uses regression modeling, factor analysis and cluster analysis to characterize the structure of the opinion data, concluding that observed opinion differences might be understood in terms of the greater number of individuals in the United States who belong to an identifiable opinion group that believes these technologies are benign and must be developed (termed, for convenience, “true believers”), as well as a somewhat greater number in Canada who belong to a group believing that ordinary people should be able to decide based on ethical considerations (“ethical populists”). However, the most common group in each country is made up of people who believe risks or costs and benefits should be weighed in developing policy, and that this should be done by experts (“utilitarians”). This group and two other cluster groups identified in the analysis (“moral authoritarians” and “democratic pragmatists”) exist in roughly equivalent proportions in both countries, with some regional variation evident within each. While these observations represent descriptive findings only, they nevertheless underscore the complexity of the opinion climate and problematize the development of consensus policy. Preliminary analysis of news coverage of selected gene technologies revealed both similarities and differences in patterns of news discourse between Canada and the US. A sample of stem cell coverage for February 2004, following the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle (during which the announcement of new Korean research on human cloning was made), was used as a case study for a pilot media analysis.
Document language English
Publication Year 2006
Page/Pages p. 55-71
Journal Public Understanding of Science, 15 (2006) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)