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Recomb DNA Tech Bull. 1985 Dec;8(4):141-64.

The attitudes of religious, environmental, and science policy leaders toward biotechnology.


Biotechnology is an increasingly visible and important item on the national science policy agenda. With growing corporate and governmental funding, basic research in recombinant DNA and related technologies is expanding rapidly. In a parallel and related process, new agricultural, medical, and other applications are being developed and a growing list of genetically-engineered products is ready for field testing and market distribution. In the months and years ahead, the flow of genetically-engineered products into the marketplace and the media coverage related to those new products will increase the public's awareness of biotechnology. In addition, it is possible that some public policy debate will occur over the issue of field testing new genetically-engineered materials. Media coverage of this type of controversy will also heighten awareness and influence the aggregate level of public awareness of biotechnology. The prospect of a public debate or controversy over any biotechnology issue illustrates a fundamental problem in the formulation of science policy within a democratic political system. The processes and techniques involved in genetic engineering and complex and require some level of scientific background knowledge. A 1979 study found that only seven per cent of American adults met a minimal definition of scientific literacy. It is clear that the current levels of public awareness and knowledge about biotechnology will not allow a public policy debate similar to those associated with controversies involving Social Security or gasoline prices. How, then, does a democratic society establish public policies on advanced technical issues like biotechnology? This report will outline a model of policy formulation for specialized issues and describe the results of a national study of relevant policy leaders concerning biotechnology. To understand the formulation of public policy toward biotechnology, it is necessary to focus on the role of the policy leaders in a stratified model. In general, when there is agreement on a given policy between the decision-makers and the policy leaders, the policy is implemented and there is no wider involvement in the policy formulation process. A large number of science and technology policy issues have been handled in this manner in the decades since the Second World War and it is likely that most science policy matters will continue to be resolved directly between policy leaders and decision-makers. Looking at the general science policy formulation process, it is clear that policy leaders are an important component.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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