September 30, 2008
Landmark poll shows little knowledge of emerging technologies
This new insight into limited public awareness of emerging technologies comes as a major leadership change is about to take hold in the nation’s capital. Public policy experts are concerned, regardless of party, that the federal government is behind the curve in engaging citizens on the potential benefits and risks posed by technologies that could have a significant impact on society.
“Early in the administration of the next president, scientists are expected to take the next major step toward the creation of synthetic forms of life. Yet the results from the first U.S. telephone poll about synthetic biology show that most adults have heard just a little or nothing at all about it,” says PEN Director David Rejeski. The poll findings are contained in a report published today, The American Public’s Awareness Of And Perceptions About Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology & Synthetic Biology.
Synthetic biology is the use of advanced science and engineering to construct or re-design living organisms–like bacteria–so that they can carry out specific functions. This emerging technology is likely to develop rapidly in the coming years, much as nanotechnology did in the last decade. In the near future the first synthetic biology "blockbuster" drug is anticipated to hit the market—an affordable treatment for the 500 million people in the world suffering from malaria.
This survey was informed by two focus groups (video - focus groups) conducted in August in suburban Baltimore. This is the first time—to the pollsters’ knowledge—that synthetic biology has been the subject of a representative national telephone survey.