Public Perceptions of Modern Biotechnology and the Necessity to Improve Communication

  • Roger J. BuschEmail author
Part of the Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry book series (AGRICULTURE, volume 64)


The use of genetic engineering was and is part of heavy social disputes. Is this, regarding consumers, due to a lack of information? Could measures according to the “public understanding of science” provide a way out of dispute? The societal conflict is not only a conflict of interests but also includes elements of a conflict of convictions. It is a matter of interpreting truth and the way things ought to be. The way to fair societal co-operation -- or at least fair discussion -- can only be paved by mutual concession of moral legitimacy. To better understand the ongoing conflict, it seems to be helpful to take a look at empirical data available to overcome the conflict.

First, ongoing societal debate has to be taken carefully into consideration. Sociological research provides quantitative data by surveys. Social psychology goes deeper into the processes of customers' attitude-building. Communication analysis helps to identify the main drivers of conflicting parties. This chapter refers to all three approaches and shows how they refer to each other and/or build upon each other.

Second, frames of reference by promotors and critics must be identified. For example, some NGOs are very successful in combining agricultural biotechnology with the impression of an upcoming crisis. As a consequence, societal discussion cannot longer be led within a cost--benefit containment that has worked pretty well up to now. However, citizens are confronted with a technology they cannot assess. They feel threatened by the matter's complexity. Here, specific individual “methods” of risk perception and the role of confidence and trust have to be taken into account. This chapter refers to the distinction between “confidence” and “trust” (by Siegrist, Gutscher and others) as an important trigger to modify science communication, and emphasizes the importance of value similarity for fair debates.

Being able to prove the value similarity of promotors and opponents is likely to help to overcome many citizens' scepticism against technology and progress.

Insufficient approaches, such as “enlightenment discourses” and “broadcasting communication ”, never worked. They pretended to serve as communication quick-fixes to overcome societal blockades. Improvements in science communication are necessary. Biotechnology communication has to be reframed. This chapter outlines a model emphasizing participants' involvement and ability to cope with identified challenges to overcome. Here, ethical aspects can be accessible in a way that they would not be mis-used as merely strategically important. Starting from challenges and not from products to introduce makes it possible to focus on the relatively best way to cope with a problem.


Risk Perception Social Trust Personal Attitude Agricultural Biotechnology Moral Legitimacy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Corporate Communication, Thermomess Wärmemessdienst AGWasserburg am InnGermany

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