5 years ago



80 even infinitesimal,

80 even infinitesimal, than it is by subtraction; by process rather than by content; by chemical rather than by physical transformation; by contaminants and above all by genetic modification and potentially by manufactured nano-particles. 15 years of food biotechnology The history of public perceptions of the Life Sciences, and in particular the troubled history of GM food, provide some interesting insights into the dynamics of public perceptions and offers some useful lessons for those wishing to achieve socially robust innovation, whether in novel technologies or foods. Two of the general lessons are that social and ethical issues should be taken into account at a formative stage of the innovation process and that market success requires more than regulatory approval and the support of producers. It is a striking fact that the many widely accepted medical applications of the Life Sciences were subject to both scientific and ethical scrutiny. The same cannot be said for GM food which, until 2001 was assessed solely on the basis of scientific risk assessments. The neglect of consideration of the social and environmental impacts contributed, in part, to the extended controversies that continue to this day. Equally striking, is that the GM industry assumed that with regulatory approval and the support of farmers, the market was secure. What they did not appreciate is that the environment into which GM crops and food was introduced included the public, in the roles of decision makers both as citizens (qua voters) and as consumers (qua purchasers). It was the public in these two roles that influenced national governments, food manufactures and the supermarket chains. Undoubtedly the NGOs and the media played a role in mobilizing public opinion, but there is a good case to be made that these intermediaries were led by public concerns, that had been evident in survey research from the 1980s. The plural rationalities of the public Research on public perception of science and technology constructs an image of everyday people, of what they are and what they should be. As Tetlock points out, much research in the aftermath of the so-called ‘cognitive revolution’ has

construed people as intuitive scientists or intuitive economists, striving to understand the science and maximising utilities respectively. With the ideal of intuitive scientists or economists, people were expected to be interested in scientific details and probabilistic conceptions of risk to evaluate technological developments. On the level of science communication, initiatives set out to ‘educate’ and ‘inform’ the public. Research on public perception, however, soon highlighted that compared to expert judgment, everyday thinking is not concerned with scientific detail, and when it comes to risk and probabilities, it is ‘biased’ and prone to errors. Others have argued against such a ‘deficit’ typification of the public and have empirically demonstrated the functionality and quality of everyday thinking. However, people are not only self-interested individuals concerned with maximising their utilities. There are at least two more possible metaphors to understand everyday people: intuitive politicians and intuitive ethicists. Intuitive politicians are concerned with fairness, the balancing of social interests, with distributional and procedural justice and the avoidance of social exploitation. Questions like ‘who is affected?’ and ‘for whom are technologies potentially risky and beneficial? play a role here. Intuitive ethicists are concerned with the core values and beliefs that are essential to the fabric of society. These values sometimes need to be defended from challenges which may arise from science and technology amongst other sources. They ask questions such as, ‘Should science trump social values?’, ‘It may be safe but is this the sort of society we wish to live in?’. All ‘intuitive experts’ are able to evaluate technologies as either good or bad. However, it is only the intuitive scientist/economist that can be expected to base judgments primarily on expected consequences, on utilitarian grounds. Intuitive politicians and ethicists may well base their approach on nonconsequential arguments, such as procedural fairness or other core values. Furthermore, a realistic model of human nature will recognize that people switch between these intuitive logics and may experience tensions between them. Consequently, there is a need to consider what clashes between the logics might arise in everyday life, both on the level of the individual, and on a societal level. When Oscar Wilde described economists as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing, he referred to one of these tensions. Modern humans, taking both the perspectives of intuitive scientists/economists and ethicists, for example, frequently struggle with competing themes, such as 81

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