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30 May 2013
Hence. The report will be useful to those interested in the public’s views on new and emerging areas of science and technology and is particularly targeted to assist those involved in policy involving science and technology as they provide a background to what is already known about public views. The views and values of the public will change and new information will become available. . It provides a snapshot of public views and is a live document which will be updated on a regular basis as new evidence of public views emerges. we welcome your views. Sciencewise is a BIS funded programme to encourage the more widespread use of public dialogue in policy involving science and technology. This report. Sciencewise provides advice and guidance to help those involved in the development of policy to understand and to take into account the views and values of the public in the development of policy involving science and technology. Assistance with the implementation of engagement as appropriate Financial support for the implementation of selected public dialogue projects Training and mentoring to assist those involved in policy development to build their understanding of the benefits and their confidence around engagement with the public. and the others in the series. insights or comments. • • Do you know of further evidence which we should include? Do you have any comments or suggestions to improve the report? You can comment here.This report is a review of currently available information on the views and values of the public on synthetic biology. Sciencewise is able to provide: Advice and guidance on public dialogue and engagement. has been produced by Sciencewise.
............................................................................................................ 9 5....................................................................................................................... 7 Areas of uncertainty or diversity of views ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 9 References .................... 1 1 2 3 Introduction ....... 2 Public views................................................................................................................................................................... 8 Possible influencing factors .....................................................1 The public and synthetic biology.. 8 4 5 6 Trends ..........4 The overall message: uncertainty ...................................................................................................................12 i ...................3 3.............................................................................................................Public views on synthetic biology Table of contents Executive summary .......................1 3............................................ 6 Commonly held views ................................................................ March 2013 ............................................................. 6 3...................................................................................................................... 9 Gap analysis ............2 3...........................................11 Appendix I Summary of public engagement activities related to synthetic biology since 2008 ............ 3 Analysis of views .................
it is both exciting and scary the need for regulation and control which could keep up with developments in the sector synthetic biology could lead to the transgression of nature optimism is high: the technology presents solutions to some of the world’s major challenges the motivation of scientists in this sector has been questioned synthetic biology could produce big winners. including bioterrorism.Public views on synthetic biology Executive summary This report summarises public views on the topic of synthetic biology across the past five years. Such a challenge also applies to gathering. and will continue to do so. This has been recognised as important from within the synthetic biology community. 1 . and the philosophical and religious concerns associated with creating artificial life. It provides an analysis of key outcomes and trends. Bringing together biologists and engineers. do have the ability to add value to policy discussions. Understanding the differences in public opinion in relation to media coverage and consumption as synthetic biology develops may be an area for further consideration. Commonly held views include: extremes. the field of synthetic biology is still in its infancy and there is currently low public awareness of the sector and its implications and applications. as well as stakeholder discussions and the UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap recognise that a key challenge will be one of regulation and how it keeps abreast of the developing technology. However. stakeholders’ motives and the Government’s ability to regulate this emerging sector. Another key theme arising from the activities undertaken so far has been one of trust. the emerging field of synthetic biology involves new and exciting technology. and insights from stakeholder input. This potentially revolutionary technology also introduces a number of major possible social. ethical and environmental risks and challenges. with potential applications spanning from improved drug delivery treatments to advances in the production of biofuels. Based upon the few dialogue and social research activities that have occurred we can confidently assert that at this stage the public are not generally aware of the technology and so have not formed strong views on its risks and benefits. it also gives an overview of possible gaps in our current knowledge about what the public think of synthetic biology and why. Gauging public reaction to potential emerging applications of synthetic biology and involving members of the public in early discussions about these applications could be an opportunity to build on the five key questions emerging from the BBSRC/Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council dialogue by examining them in a more practical context. academic research and media reporting). monitoring and responding to public views. Public dialogues. and big losers given the sense that the public consider themselves powerless to influence the sciences more generally. Focusing predominantly on the UK public dialogues which have been undertaken (incorporating data from UK and EU polling. in terms of scientists’ activities. There might also be room for ongoing engagement of some kind in order to identify emerging trends in public views and attitudes towards synthetic biology over a number of years. scientists have a responsibility to consider the wider implications of their work Interest in the field of synthetic biology is progressing at a rapid rate. Though there has recently been a rapid rise in research activity. commercial monopolies. an overarching theme of public uncertainty emerges. the Royal Academy of Engineering and Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) dialogues both demonstrated that members of the public. The fast moving nature of the technology and its disruptive potential mean that attention should be paid to whether developments in the technology suggest an appropriate timescale for further public involvement in order that policy can take into account public views. given time and information. Synthetic biology involves the design and construction of new biological devices and systems for useful purposes.
org/web/biosciencesktn/about-the-biosciences-ktn [accessed 22 March 2013] 12 Willets.uk/web/FILES/Publications/1210-biology-by-design.imperial. UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group/RCUK. For more examples see www. (2012) Response to ‘A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK’ www.innovateuk. There has recently been a rapid rise in research activity. As an emerging field.uk/governmentGovernment/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/34678/12-1250-response-to-synthetic-biology-roadmap-foruk. a month later the newly established synthetic biology leadership council met for the first time .org/web/synthetic-biology-special-interestgroup/overview [accessed 22 March 2013] and the Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). and with the BBSRC taking a leading role with the 14 13 European funding agencies as part of the ERA-NET in Synthetic Biology (ERASynBio) . as a result. p.uk/Press-Releases/Government-to-invest-20-million-in-synthetic-biology-682fa. Given the many potential applications and significance of this technology. 1 1 Including the design of interchangeable parts which can be assembled into pathways for the fabrication of novel components. social and ethical challenges. J. A multidisciplinary community is 11 rapidly emerging via dedicated programmes and facilities . many definitions have been proposed.pdf 3 Ibid. However. (2011) Six academies’ symposium: engineering principles http://blogs.bbsrc. The UK Research Councils moved to address these issues through the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Bioscience for Society Panel. Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced it will be investing a further £20 million in the 7 8 sector . but the UK Research Councils and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) use the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) definition which states that: “Synthetic biology aims to design and engineer biologically based parts.aspx [accessed 22 March 2013] 8 Willets. See: https://connect. novel devices and systems as well as redesigning existing. In fact.4 13 A blog summarising the London symposium can be found here: Bland.aspx?utm_source=MailingList&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=March+2013 11 Such as the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSBI) See: www3. in March 2013.uk/news/research-technologies/2013/130307-pr-over-5m-in-leading-edgebioscience.3 10 www. A. and the philosophical and religious concerns associated with creating 4 artificial life . China and the US .royalsociety.gov. P. the construction of entirely artificial cells and the creation of synthetic biomolecules.ac.uk/web/FILES/Reviews/0806_synthetic_biology.erasynbio. programmable manufacturing systems have an almost infinite number of potential applications and.bis. have been suggested by some as paving the way for a new industrial 3 revolution . natural biological systems. (2008) Synthetic biology. is recognised as leading for example with a series of recent symposia 13 involving other market leaders. commercial monopolies.ac.pdf [accessed 22 March 2013] p.Public views on synthetic biology 1 Introduction Bringing together biologists and engineers. BBSRC and EPSRC 10 would help to fund 15 synthetic biology projects across the UK .aspx BIS Press Release (2012) http://news. This new technology also introduces a number of major social. ethical and environmental risks and challenges.uk/society/dialogue/activities/synthetic-biology/synthetic-biology-index.” Synthetic biology has many potential applications from improved drug delivery treatments to advances in the production of biofuels or even enhancing the ways in which underground minerals can 2 be mined .4 9 TSB (2012) A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK. In the UK £90 million has been committed for synthetic biology through a number of programmes and networks predominantly funded by the BBSRC and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Imperial College London.innovateuk. The UK is also playing a major role 12 internationally and. D.ac. bioterrorism. Within Europe early stage funding for 18 synthetic biology research and policy projects has been provided by the EU’s New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) programme. (2012) Response to ‘A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK’ p. & Martin.bbsrc.ac. 2 Smith. Indeed.net/ [accessed 22 March 2013] 2 .pdf 6 7 www.gov. The principles of technological manipulation of biology have been advocated since the beginning of the 20th Century. the department for Business. the emerging field of synthetic biology involves new and exciting technology. See: https://connect. C.3 million investment from the TSB.bbsrc. as a result. the TSB has highlighted 9 synthetic biology as an area which could offer strong growth potential for the UK’s economy .org/in-verba/2011/04/15/six-academies-synthetic-biology-symposium-engineering-principles/ [accessed 22 March 2013] 14 See: www. In November 2012. 4 Balmer.ac. including the uncontrolled release of synthetic organisms. it was announced that a £5. D.bbsrc. (2013) Discovery in synthetic biology a step closer to new industrial revolution. BBSRC/ University of Nottingham http://www.uk/syntheticbiology/about [accessed 22 March 2013] and the Synthetic Biology Special Interest Group (SynBioSIG). the widespread use of the term ‘synthetic biology’ has only occurred since early 2000 as our understanding of complex biological systems and the falling cost of underpinning technologies such as gene sequencing and synthesis have allowed a paradigm shift our ability to engineer biology. the Balmer & Martin 5 6 report on Social and Ethical Challenges and through a large scale public dialogue .
supplemented by some UK-based and Europe-wide polling. given the focus of this report. As a new and emerging field of technology. as well as insights from stakeholder discussions. public dialogue on synthetic biology. conferences and symposia have addressed these concerns. European Commission/TNS Opinion and Social.bbsrc. This was mirrored in Europe-wide polling in 2010. biotechnology. EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. Only two public dialogues have been conducted. a number of key themes emerge: 1. As such. In this light. which is not reflected here.htm 16 17 www. which instead focuses on a high level account of public views summarised across the various different engagement methodologies used. Focusing predominantly on the UK public dialogues which have been undertaken. many of the nuances of the outcomes or particular reasoning behind using different methodologies will not be captured in this report. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ in Biosciences. 15 Lentzos. prepared by People. See: www. nanotechnology and software engineering. A public dialogue study undertaken in 2009 found only a third of respondents had heard of synthetic biology. Sir David King. participants felt unable to engage in how new technologies worked and 17 felt they are ‘kept in the dark about developments and only shown the positive sides of science’ . There is much academic literature on the topic of synthetic biology.1. civil society. F.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmdius/115/7120504. is on record as saying that the estimated cost to the economy of the controversy over GM food crops has amounted to a billion pounds a year in lost revenue to UK plc.18 19 TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73.pdf Research Councils (BBSRC.307.124-5 3 . It is worth noting that the former Government Chief Scientific Advisor. a parallel can be drawn with other technologies such as genetic modification (GM). the potential public reaction to aspects of synthetic biology. the evolution of public opinion towards this emerging sector is of great interest to the scientific community and policy makers alike. emerging field there is relatively little evidence on the views of the UK public with respect to synthetic biology. Due to the relative scarcity of public research.parliament. p. and a number of studies. While only 3% had heard a lot about synthetic biology.publications. all of which are listed in Appendix I. This report also does not attempt any detailed comparison of how the public view synthetic biology compared to other technological developments.28 18 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. there are currently limited examples of the gathering of public views on synthetic biology and thus limited understanding of what these public views are. 2 Public views As a new. EU and US polling.uk/web/FILES/Reviews/1006-synthetic-biology-dialogue. This would require further research to reach any comprehensive conclusions. a further fifth (19%) in the UK said that they had heard a little. However. (but also incorporating data from UK. civil society. stakeholder and academic communities are interested in. which showed that a very large majority 19 (83%) of Europeans had never heard of synthetic biology (Figure 1) . stakeholder and US-related activities have been included in the selection of sources for this report. prepared by TNS-BMRB. while another 10% said that they had heard the term but did not know what it 18 meant . academic research and media reporting). p. LSE. It is worth noting that the different activities of public engagement on this topic would have all had different methodologies and aims.ac. as reflected in 15 current stakeholder discussions . ‘Synbio’ is not in the public domain Public dialogue projects have shown that despite the public viewing the capabilities of scientists as 16 ‘amazing or extraordinary’ . Science and Policy Ltd. p. and concerned by. 4.Public views on synthetic biology However. pp.
to which 35% of the public responded that they didn’t know en ough to answer the question.pdf 4 .1: Biotechnology) A poll about attitudes to science held in 2011 asked about the risks and benefits attached to synthetic biology.’ which was linked with the lack of information about the field in the public domain . pp.31-2 European Commission (2012) Synthetic biology’s potential controversy assessed. and this also does not mean that the public necessarily have to be highly informed to add value to the debate.uk/cms/assets/Uploads/Publications/Sciencewise-Evaluation-Report-FINAL. A 2012 European Commission-funded study into the potential for public controversy in light of the GM experience reasoned that the public ‘do not necessarily have a clear understanding of synthetic 21 biology. with 87% feeling uninformed about the technology generally (see Figure 2). evaluation of various projects funded by Sciencewise showed that the public are able to add value to policy discussions and 22 understand complex scientific areas . 20 20 21 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. However.sciencewise-erc. pp.pdf [accessed 22 March 2013] 22 www.org. this may not be surprising given the lack of a clear definition of the field.Public views on synthetic biology Figure 1: 2010 statistics on European public awareness of synthetic biology (from Eurobarometer 73.europa.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/288na5. Ipsos-MORI. News Alert Issue 288: http://ec.25-6.
The issue of regulation has also been highlighted by some elements of the civil society community. public dialogue on synthetic biology. p.20 Research Councils (BBSRC. Participants argued 29 that this could potentially maintain dependence of developing countries on the West . (2011) ‘How do synthetic biologists keep the support of the public?’ the Guardian: www. Participants also considered the potential of the technology in terms of ‘replacement’ (e. led by Friends of the Earth in the US.26 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. The public have concerns over the control and regulation of synthetic biology The urgent need for effective international regulation and control was one of the most important issues 27 identified by participants in the 2010 BBSRC/EPSRC public dialogue . particularly following the 26 London-based 2011 international symposium on synthetic biology . p. These findings were notable in the 2009 dialogue study by RAEng and the 2010 European opinion poll study in which concerns were also raised as to how governments could feasibly control synthetic biology and whether they could 28 keep up with the rapid speed of development . in a report entitled ‘Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology’ . EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. p.32 26 Sample. EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. Prominent concerns also existed around the likely potential for large corporations to patent developments and create monopolies.guardian.11 5 . dialogue activities have demonstrated that the public view 23 synthetic biology as having ‘tremendous potential to overcome serious diseases and injuries’ .7 29 Research Councils (BBSRC. biotechnology. Participants demonstrated pri de in the 25 knowledge that British researchers would be pioneers in this new area . 3. such as fuels) . EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. including those that were in short supply. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report.34 and RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. public dialogue on synthetic biology. p. developing 24 new materials.uk/science/blog/2011/apr/14/synthetic-biology-pathogens-china [accessed 23 March 2013] 27 Research Councils (BBSRC.8 28 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. p.7 and TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73. p. The status of Britain as a leading research base has also received some mention in the UK press. The public have high hopes for the possibilities presented by synthetic biology Particularly in the field of medicine.Public views on synthetic biology Figure 2: 2011 statistics on UK public awareness of science topics (from Ipsos-MORI Public Attitudes Towards Science Report) 2. I.1.co. public dialogue on synthetic biology. Participants in dialogue activities also expressed a hope that the technology could be used to create wealth and improve the UK’s economic competitiveness.g. p. p. The report argues that the lack of specific regulations in respect to synthetic biology is damaging to 23 24 25 Research Councils (BBSRC.
. & Rose.medicineandhealth3 [accessed 23 March 2013] 35 Research Councils (BBSRC. pathogens and viruses could be deliberately created by individuals or organisations with access to such technology. and the terminology complex. rapid synthesis of viral and other pathogen genomes ’ . p.6 40 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. M. Such concerns echo 36 public attitudes towards GM as ‘going against nature.1. but is worth consideration by way of context for the analysis below. A.newscientist.7–17 34 Sample. B. p.Public views on synthetic biology public participation and transparency and provides no recourse in the case of ‘public health accidents. A.34. (2009) ‘ Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ p.synbiowatch. F.39 36 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. M. participants showed concern that new diseases. 3. And Biller-Adorno. it is worth pointing out that many of the messages emerging in this report may well be reflective of public views about other new or emerging science and technology topics.306 38 TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73. These ethical concerns were replicated in the 38 European and US polls . for example with regards to bioterrorism. International centre for Technology Assessment & ETC Group (2011) ‘Draft principles for the oversigh t of synthetic biology’ http://www. p.’ a comparison which has not been lost on 37 many stakeholders and academics in the field . p. produced by Peter D Hart Research Associates. many felt uncomfortable about the ability to create living entities .. Such concerns have been replicated in the stakeholder community which cites the potential for 33 ‘efficient. Similarly. N. Torgersen. (2005) ‘Security fears as flu virus that killed 50 million is recreated’ the Guardian: www.4. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. when synthetic biologists recreated the 34 Spanish flu virus ‘that killed 50 million’ . participants did focus on this as an issue. despite participants finding it difficult to articulate these 35 concerns. pp. p.co. I. EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report.9 33 Schmidt. In the 2009 RAEng study.. Ganguli-Mitra. p. Deplazes. 5. EPSRC) and Sciencewise (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. Misuse of this technology is a potential concern Concerns around the misuse of synthetic biology. have arisen in previous studies. 6 . 3 Analysis of views Firstly.’ New Scientist: http://www. 30 environmental disruption or economic harms’ . In the 2010 BBSRC/EPSRC dialogue. which is hardly surprising given its relative infancy: People surveyed in opinion polls felt they were not sufficiently informed to weigh up the risks 40 and benefits of synthetic biology 30 Friends of the Earth US.guardian. 4. A.com/article/mg21428684.uk/society/2005/oct/06/health. (2011) ‘Does synthetic biology need a new PR campaign?’ and Lentzos. p.25 37 Miller. p. Also raised in: Friends of the Earth US.1 The overall message: uncertainty The overarching message arising from dialogue projects and opinion polls is that the public do not currently feel that they can fully assess the implications and applications of this new technology. biotechnology. There has also been wide coverage of such security concerns in the media dating back to 2005.25-6. C. pp. public dialogue on synthetic biology. there was a concern that as the field advanced this could become a real issue”32. but 31 highlighted the fact that bioweapons such as anthrax were already available .10 39 Research Councils (BBSRC. with the report stating “while participants generally noted there were probably easier ways to mount a terrorist attack than using synthetic biology.. (2012) ‘Let’s get real on synthetic biology.’ The BBSRC study found that. International centre for Technology Assessment & ETC Group (2011) ‘Draft principles for the oversight of synthetic biology’.800-lets-get-real-on-synthetic-biology. There are concerns for the environmental and health impact of synthetic biology All of the dialogue studies and opinion polls found that a section of the public have concerns around ‘playing God.html [accessed 8th March 2013] 31 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. The degree to which views on synthetic biology are comparable or not to other similar emerging or new technologies is outside the scope of this report.pdf [accessed on 8th March 2013]. Kelle. broad concerns have been raised over the possibility of environmental contamination through the uncontrolled release of synthetic organisms. the effects of 39 which were understood to be unpredictable and potentially far-reaching .30 32 Research Councils (BBSRC. 2(1-2). This report has also received some coverage in the press: See Marris. for example particularly where the definitions or precise applications are uncertain.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Principles-for-the-oversight-of-synthetic-biology-web-2. (2008) ‘SYNBIOSAFE e-conference: online community discussion on the societal aspects of synthetic biology’ in Syst Synth Biology. p.. H.7 and Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (2008) Awareness of and attitudes toward nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
Ganguli-Mitra. as outlined below. p. 3. public dialogue on synthetic biology. energy needs and 49 diseases . EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. Indeed.40 49 Ibid. academic and policy circles are also uncertain if a major public 43 outcry may occur as with GM in the late 1990s and early 2000s However. And Biller-Adorno. p.21 51 Research Councils (BBSRC.Public views on synthetic biology There was a sense of uncertainty emerging from more in depth dialogue. Deplazes. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. F. stakeholder and academic communities are uncertain about how to engage with the public. climate change.32 46 Ibid. A. A. p. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. p. when questioned about science and scientific research developments more generally nearly half of the 44 public claimed to feel uninformed . personal level (notwithstanding the fact that this may change if more personalised applications of synthetic biology develop.28 42 Lentzos.36 50 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. M. though there is unanimous agreement that the public need to be 42 engaged . public dialogue on synthetic biology... The stakeholder. p. However. A. p.40-44 47 Research Councils (BBSRC. both across public participants and 41 stakeholders One of the outcomes of the BBSRC/EPSRC dialogue was that members of the public felt there was an ongoing requirement for engagement as the technology develops. both in terms of what synthetic biology could do and where it was going.40 and RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. Torgersen. Kelle.19-20 48 Research Councils (BBSRC.2 Commonly held views The general public reaction to synthetic biology can be seen as one of extremes. the overall message of uncertainty arising from public engagement activities must be viewed in context. pp. Members of the public were 51 concerned that in the quest for knowledge important things could be overlooked . This is related to a common concern that synthetic biology could lead to the transgression of 48 nature Optimism is high: the public see synthetic biology as presenting solutions to some of the world’s major challenges. 50 such as in the field of medicine) The motivation of scientists in this sector was questioned. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. p. 47 evoking images of living things as artificial which made members of the public uneasy . Similarly. H. pp.7–17and Lentzos.18 and Research Councils (BBSRC. public dialogue on synthetic biology. There are in fact some clear views emerging with respect to synthetic biology.. While it is true that synthetic biology is an area the public feel particularly uninformed about. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report.. the BBSRC dialogue led to the public formulating five central questions for synthetic biology researchers: o What is the purpose? o Why do you want to do it? o What are you going to gain from it? o What else is it going to do? o How do you know you are right? (ie how to do you know that what you are doing is ethical?) 41 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. p. p.. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ p.74 7 . the public have viewed synthetic biology as an area of science which operates on a societal. including food shortages. .37. N. mass level as opposed to an individual. F. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ p.30 45 Research Councils (BBSRC. it is both 45 exciting and scary The need for regulation and control which could keep up with developments in the sector 46 was flagged up as highly important by participants in dialogue studies The conflict between the meanings of the terms synthetic and biology was difficult for some. particularly for research councils to explain how some of the conditions participants placed on research have been met.307 44 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report.309 43 Schmidt. (2008) ‘SYNBIOSAFE e-conference: online community discussion on the societal aspects of synthetic biology’ pp. Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. p.
org/news/blog/2012-03-global-coalition-calls-oversight-synthetic-biology 57 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. People who mostly find their information about science in traditional media like television or newspapers are among the least informed (37% and 41% respectively). led by Friends of the Earth in the US has strongly criticised the way this 56 emerging technology is being developed 3. with GM being mentioned regularly and in a negative light when discussing the potential uses and regulation of synthetic biology.1.6 55 Schmidt. Torgersen..125 59 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report. areas which 59 have garnered far more media coverage in the past decade .. p. while those that get most of their information online.. p. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ pp.41 and RAE (2009) Synthetic biology. Kelle.7–17 and Lentzos. those with access to the Internet tend to feel 57 more informed than those without . M. (2008) ‘SYNBIOSAFE e-conference: online community discussion on the societal aspects of synthetic biology’ pp.4 Possible influencing factors How informed the public feel towards new technologies like synthetic biology is linked to information sources. p. A. respondents felt far more informed about other areas such as nuclear power and GM.3 Areas of uncertainty or diversity of views Survey respondents to the RAEng public dialogue revealed a difference in attitude between the 54 modification and creation of micro-organisms .22 RAE (2009) Synthetic biology.306-7 56 www. partially because these were perceived to have less chance of survival in the event of an accidental release The GM public outcry seems to be at the forefront for much of the stakeholder. p. Ganguli-Mitra. p. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. And Biller-Adorno.. A sense of uncertainty prevails. Deplazes. may indirectly indicate a growing level of awareness of synthetic biology. The findings from the Ipsos-MORI poll have been echoed by the opinion poll carried out by TNS on behalf of the European Commission in 2010 which showed that levels of awareness of synthetic biology among daily Internet users was higher than those who used 58 the Internet less regularly. A. H. p. As 52 53 54 Research Councils (BBSRC. As summarised earlier in this section. Recent media coverage in late 2012 and early 2013. thus requiring scientists to keep the public interest in mind when 53 undertaking research 3.32 8 . More generally. Contrastingly. biotechnology. However. more of the respondents (46%) disagreed rather than agreed (24%) with the statement ‘re-designing an existing micro-organism so that it produces medicines and biofuels should not be allowed’. A 2010 poll conducted by Ipsos-Mori showed that relatively new technologies such as synthetic biology and nanotechnology came bottom of the table in terms of how informed respondents felt. F.31 58 TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73. This has been connected to a sense that the public considered themselves powerless to influence the sciences more generally. A. it is not clear to what degree the GM experience will be replicated for the field of synthetic biology and if these fears are well-founded A declaration. p. In the survey element of the RAEng process. either via science blogs or other websites. public dialogue on synthetic biology. public dialogue on synthetic biology. Big business was seen as a likely winner which may undermine the potential to reduce social inequalities with this 52 technology That scientists had a responsibility to consider the wider implications of their work..38 Ibid. academic and policy 55 communities when discussing public engagement The public views coming out of public dialogues would appear to conform to these concerns. are more likely to feel informed (71% and 55% respectively). and big losers.Public views on synthetic biology That synthetic biology could produce big winners. the overall message arising from recent research into public attitudes towards synthetic biology in the UK is one of uncertainty. N. However. this is les s than the 63% who supported the statement ‘creating new man-made micro-organisms that will produce medicines or biofuels should be supported’ The dialogue participants indicated that there was more support for the creation of completely artificial organisms. Engagement with and knowledge of science issues may relate to media coverage .foe. if at all .
(2008) ‘SYNBIOSAFE e-conference: online community discussion on the societal aspects of synthetic biology’ pp. Approval ratings also varied according to gender. given time and information. A.132 64 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011: computer tables.. Ganguli-Mitra. Demographics: Gender may affect level of awareness and attitudes towards synthetic biology. Prominent in both the RAE public dialogue of 2009. Torgersen. M. Another key theme arising from the activities undertaken so far has been one of trust.uk/documents/publications/SyntheticBiologyRoadmap. many participants held on to a number of misconceptions and remained uncertain and 60 unconfident about the technology. Again. prepared by Laura Grant Associates. but different to others such as climate change and clinical trials. in terms of scientists’ activities. H. Demographics: Higher social grades may view synthetic biology in a more positive light.19 62 Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011: computer tables. Synthetic biology dialogue: follow up report. biotechnology. Due to the lack of data on public views trends can therefore not be confidently identified at this stage. though doubts were repeatedly expressed about the feasibility of a regulatory system being put in place which could keep up with the rapid development of the technology. N. respondents from higher social grades viewed the net benefits as outweighing the risks far more than those from lower social grades (27% 65 and 13% respectively) . Public concerns related to regulation haven’t changed over time .18-19 61 Research Councils(BBSRC. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2011). Ipsos-MORI. Such a challenge also applies to the gathering and monitoring of public views. pp.155 65 Ibid. And Biller-Adorno.1 The public and synthetic biology.1. March 2013 Interest in the field of synthetic biology is progressing at a rapid rate.rcuk. 5 Gap analysis 5. identifying trends across a short period of time risks placing excessive importance on small differences between public dialogues over a two year period. 60 Research Councils(BBSRC. p. A. and their own ability to assess its risks and benefits .. with 44% 63 of men approving in the TNS poll. Deplazes. although the RAEng and BBSRC/EPSRC dialogues both demonstrated that members of the public.. this appears to vary depending on the area of science and technology being asked about rather than being consistent across all areas. p. women tend to feel less informed than men (minus 81% and minus 75% respectively) . do have the ability to add value to policy discussions. 4 Trends Given that synthetic biology is a new technology and that research into public views is understandably in its infancy. A. p. p.pdf 67 Schmidt.7–17 and Lentzos. Synthetic biology dialogue: follow up report. When asked to weigh the benefits and risks of synthetic biology.. and will continue to do so.306-7 9 . as well as stakeholder discussions and the current Synthetic Biology Roadmap recognise that a key challenge will be one of regulation and how this is to keep abreast of the developing technology. compared to 36% of women . Related to this issue for many of the participants was the need for strict regulation of the sector. This appears to be similar to some other areas of science such as nanotechnology. one of the outcomes of the BBSRC dialogue was that members of the public felt there was an ongoing requirement for engagement as the technology develops. such findings were echoed the UK64 based Ipsos-MORI poll .Public views on synthetic biology noted in the evaluation of BBSRC/EPSRC’s public dialogue carried out ten months after the original study.98 63 TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73. This 67 has been recognised as important from within the synthetic biology community . stakeholders’ motives and the Government’s ability to regulate this emerging sector. p. Indeed.ac.. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ pp. the BBSRC public dialogue of 2010 and the BBSRC public dialogue evaluation of 2011. is the way in which the public associate synthetic biology as a technology which 61 could be thought of as going against nature . EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2011). F. Public 66 dialogues. Based upon the few dialogue and social research activities that have occurred we can confidently assert that at this stage the public do not have a strong grasp of the technology and its risks and benefits. Ipsos-MORI research shows that despite the level of awareness of synthetic biology being low for both 62 genders.155 66 UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group (2012) http://www. a challenge which scientists and stakeholders have already recognised as urgently required. Kelle.
including: It has provided impetus to take public concerns about synthetic biology to regulators via discussions with the Chief Scientific Advisor It has catalysed and informed EPSRC’s work on responsible innovation by linking to the 69 dialogue through the Societal Issues Panel The BBSRC has reviewed the way in which researchers making grant applications address social and ethical issues as a direct result of the dialogue. 68 69 Research Councils(BBSRC. and the RAEng dialogue identified a number of specific areas where further exploration might be useful. The BBSRC dialogue concluded that the public wanted to continue to be involved and informed. Understanding the differences in public opinion in relation to media coverage and consumption as the area of synthetic biology develops may be an area for further consideration.Public views on synthetic biology Current policy development in response to public dialogue The BBSRC/EPSRC evaluation points to four areas in which the BBSRC/EPSRC public dialogue appears to have led to a shift in policy. p.uk/frriict/ 10 . which in turn has created opportunities for the public engagement team to collaborate with colleagues that work on research funding It prompted an RCUK proposal to Sciencewise to fund research that draws together the findings across dialogues in areas of emerging technology 68 The fast moving nature of the technology and its disruptive potential means that attention should be paid to whether developments in the technology suggest an appropriate time for further public involvement in order that policy can take into account public views. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2011). Gauging public reaction to potential emerging applications of synthetic biology and involving members of the public in early discussions about these applications could be an opportunity to build on the five key questions emerging from the BBSRC/EPSRC dialogue by examining them in a more practical context. There might also be room for ongoing engagement of some kind in order to identify emerging trends in public views and attitudes towards synthetic biology over a number of years.org.38 http://responsible-innovation. Synthetic biology dialogue: follow up report.
Deplazes.pdf 11 . P.7–17 Smith.uk/society/2005/oct/06/health.eu/environment/integration/research/newsalert/pdf/288na5. 4.uk/Press-Releases/Government-to-invest-20-million-insynthetic-biology-682fa. Ipsos-MORI Lentzos. H..com/article/mg21428684.com/press/bc224398. & Rose. I. ICTA & ETC Group (2011) ‘The principles for the oversight of synthetic biology’:www. http://blogs. (2009) ‘Synthetic biology in the social context: the UK debate to date’ in Biosciences.europa.aspx [accessed 22 March 2013] Bland.800-lets-get-real-on-synthetic-biology. News Alert Issue 288: http://ec. (2011) ‘Does synthetic biology need a new PR campaign?’ in A Global Village.Public views on synthetic biology 6 References Balmer. Issue 3 Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (2008) Awareness of and attitudes toward nanotechnology and synthetic biology.html [accessed 22 March 2013] Miller..guardian. Ganguli-Mitra. N. and Biller-Adorno. I.pdf [accessed on 22 March 2013] Global Information.co. B. prepared by People.pdf [accessed 22 March 2013] Friends of the Earth US. (2008) ‘SYNBIOSAFE e-conference’ in Syst Synth Biology..8 Billion in 2016 www. Press Release (2011) Global Value of Synthetic Biology Market to Reach $10. Synthetic biology dialogue: follow up report.. p. biotechnology. Torgersen.royalsociety. M.1.co.giiresearch. C.guardian. (2013) Discovery in synthetic biology a step closer to new industrial revolution . A.newscientist.org/in-verba/2011/04/15/six-academies-synthetic-biology-symposiumengineering-principles/ [accessed 22 March 2013] European Commission (2012) Synthetic biology’s potential controversy assessed.rcuk. C. EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2011). EPSRC) and Sciencewise-ERC (2010) Synthetic biology dialogue report. Science and Policy Ltd Research Councils(BBSRC.uk/science/blog/2011/apr/14/synthetic-biology-pathogens-china [accessed 22 March 2013] Sample. (2008) Synthetic biology. Ipsos-MORI Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011: computer tables.3 UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group (2012) http://www. (2005) ‘Security fears as flu virus that killed 50 million is recreated’ the Guardian: www. pp. (2011) ‘How do synthetic biologists keep the support of the public?’ the Guardian: www. prepared by Laura Grant Associates Research Councils (BBSRC. 2(1-2). Kelle. A. J. & Martin. UK Synthetic Biology Roadmap Coordination Group/RCUK..ac.uk/documents/publications/SyntheticBiologyRoadmap.medicineandhealth3 [accessed 22 March 2013] Schmidt. prepared by TNS-BMRB Sample. M.gov. A. BBSRC/ University of Nottingham BIS Press Release (2012) http://news. F. LSE Marris. social and ethical challenges. RAE (2009) Synthetic biology.shtml [accessed 22 March 2013] Ipsos-MORI/BIS (2011) Public attitudes to science 2011 main report . A. Imperial College London TNS Opinion and Social (2010) Eurobarometer 73.’ New Scientist: www.synbioproject. (2012) ‘Let’s get real on synthetic biology. produced by Peter D Hart Research Associates. European Commission/TNS Opinion and Social TSB (2012) A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK. public dialogue on synthetic biology .org/process/assets/files/6620/_draft/principles_for_the_oversight_of_synth etic_biology.bis. (2011) Six academies’ symposium: engineering principles.
gov. (2012) Response to ‘A synthetic biology roadmap for the UK’ www.pdf [accessed 22 March 2013] 12 .uk/governmentGovernment/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/34678/12-1250response-to-synthetic-biology-roadmap-for-uk. D.Public views on synthetic biology Willets.
exploring attitudes toward the entities involved in the oversight of new scientific and technological advances.S. Birmingham and Cardiff Questions on synthetic biology were limited to multiple choice questions concerning: the public’s perceived risks and benefits of the technology. killer pathogens and a potential UK-China collaboration Opinion Poll Ipsos-MORI/ BIS/BSA Public Attitudes to Science 2011 2011 Ipsos MORI carried out 2. raising issues around human cloning. awareness of nanotechnology. and impressions of potential applications of synthetic biology 2012 Reports on the need for more nuance in the public discussion of synthetic biology Media Reporting New Scientist Let's get real on synthetic biology Civil Society Policy Document for Public Dissemination Academic Research Friends of the Earth The Principles for the 2012 Drafted through a collaborative U.Online newsletter/journal Does Synthetic 2011 Post written by Imperial College Biology Need A New London student PR Campaign? 12 .103 interviews with UK adults aged 16+ from 11 October to 19 December 2010 including deliberative workshops with members of the general public in four locations: London.. Hart Research Associates Date Method/ Focus 2013 Nationwide telephone survey among 804 adults in the USA. and awareness of and attitudes toward synthetic biology. Beverley. International Oversight of process among civil society groups. ETC Group organisations European Commission Synthetic biology’s 2012 Assessment of the potential for social potential controversy and political conflict to synthetic assessed biology by drawing comparisons with the controversy surrounding genetic modification (GM) in the 1990s Media Reporting The Guardian How do synthetic biologists keep the support of the public? 2011 Discusses how scientists can maintain public support in this area. Center for Technology Synthetic Biology including a number of UK Assessment. how informed the public felt about the technology Blog Post A Global Village.Public views on synthetic biology Appendix I Summary of public engagement activities related to synthetic biology since 2008 Type of Public Research Poll Produced/ Delivered Title by Science and Technology Awareness and Innovation Program at Impressions of the Woodrow Wilson Synthetic Biology International Center for Scholars and Peter D.
with the aim to stimulate an open debate on the societal implications of synthetic biology. An evaluation of this study. resident in each of the Member States and aged 15 years and over. a number of sampling points was drawn with probability proportional to population size (for a total coverage of the country) and to population density Public Dialogue BBSRC. random (probability) one.003 Attitudes toward adults about awareness of and Nanotechnology and attitudes toward both nanotechnology Synthetic Biology and synthetic biology Two focus group sessions were conducted in Baltimore. on request of the European Commission. In each country. and a nationwide representative survey of 1. The e-conference attracted 124 registered participants from 23 different countries and different professional backgrounds. The structure of the RAEng study of 2009 was heavily influenced by this study Academic/ Stakeholder Research Synbiosafe (funded by European Commission) SYNBIOSAFE econference: online community discussion on the societal aspects of synthetic biology 2008 As part of the SYNBIOSAFE project.Public views on synthetic biology Opinion Poll TNS/ European Commission Eurobarometer 73. EPSRC. was carried out in 2011 Public Dialogue RAEng Synthetic Biology: Public dialogue on synthetic biology 2009 Findings based on a dialogue activity with 16 members of the public. TNS Opinion & Social carried out the Eurobarometer. The basic sample design applied in all states is a multistage. among adults—one among women and one among men— to explore both unaided and informed impressions of synthetic biology. August 2008. Sciencewise Synthetic Biology Dialogue 2010 Findings based on a series of public workshops and stakeholder interviews on the science and issues surrounding synthetic biology.000 adults aged 18 and over Academic Paper LSE Synthetic Biology in the Social Context 2009 This article provides a summary of some of the main events and discussions that have taken place in the UK over the last few months on socio-political aspects of synthetic biology US Opinion Poll Hart Research Associates Awareness of and 2008 A nationwide (US) survey among 1. focusing on European public opinions towards different types of Biotechnologies It covers the population of the respective nationalities of the EU Member States.1: 2010 Between 29 January and 17 February Biotechnology 2010. Maryland. an open e-conference was carried out. including follow-up questions for participants. who made 182 contributions in six 13 .
0 (Berkeley. 11/2007) the joint Visionary Seminar of Leuven. May 2006). 11/2007) and the list of 38 NGOs that signed the petition letter against the SB 2. notably SB2. SB3.Public views on synthetic biology different categories including public perception Those selected for invitation were primarily from participant lists from major SB related conferences. 06/2007).0 (Zurich.0 selfgovernance declaration 14 . Inc and IMEC (Leuven. the ESF conference on SB (ECSB) (Barcelona.
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