Technology Optimism or Pessimism: How Trust in Science Shapes Policy Attitudes About Genomic Science


Hochschild, Jennifer, Alex Crabill, and Maya Sen. 2012. “Technology Optimism or Pessimism: How Trust in Science Shapes Policy Attitudes About Genomic Science.” Brookings Issues in Technology Innovation , no. 21. Copy at
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Just as physics gained public visibility and ideological contention as it matured over the twentieth century, so genomic science will gain public visibility and competing normative valences as it becomes increasingly important during the twenty-first century. We begin by describing Americans’ level of technology optimism or pessimism across four arenas in genomic science and one arena (climate change) outside genomic science. We then ask “so what?” – do people who perceive more harm than good in genomic science hold different policy preferences from those who perceive more good than harm? Do optimists and pessimists differ in their perceptions of elite actors, or their willingness to be directly involved with the new science? Finally, we consider variations within the public. Is knowledge about genetics associated with more optimism about genomic science? Are people with direct interests in one arena of genomics more optimistic (or pessimistic) about its future than they are about other arenas? Do religiosity or characteristics such as race or gender play a role in levels of optimism about genomics in general or particular genomics arenas?

We conclude, first, that public attitudes toward genomic science are coherent and intelligible, perhaps surprisingly so given how new and complex the substantive issues are, and, second, that citizens differ from most social scientists, legal scholars, and policy advocates in their overall embrace of genomics’ possibilities for benefitting society.

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Last updated on 07/08/2015