U.S. Doesn't Know Beans About Genes

WASHINGTON—Two recent public opinion surveys indicate that a substantial majority of adult Americans do not know what genetic engineering is and are ignorant of the ethical and scientific issues surrounding it. Nearly two in five people (39 percent) had not heard of genetic engineering, according to a survey conducted last spring for Novo Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company. The poll also found that nearly two-thirds of the remaining group—representing a total of 80 percent o

Ted Agres
Nov 1, 1987

WASHINGTON—Two recent public opinion surveys indicate that a substantial majority of adult Americans do not know what genetic engineering is and are ignorant of the ethical and scientific issues surrounding it.

Nearly two in five people (39 percent) had not heard of genetic engineering, according to a survey conducted last spring for Novo Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company. The poll also found that nearly two-thirds of the remaining group—representing a total of 80 percent of the overall sample—felt insufficiently informed to comment on regulatory issues. A survey done last fall for the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (see THE SCIENTIST, June 29, p.4) found that more than 63 percent of those polled said they knew little or nothing about the field.

Plunging ahead in the face of such ignorance, the examiners found a broad base of support for genetic engineering research and application, with large percentages believing that benefits will...

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