Opinion Polls/

Public Perception/Power

‘As the Human Genome Project and other genome projects progress, we as individuals will be confronted by many ethical and social issues. In democracies, the way that people address those issues will shape the response of governments and will mould any laws they introduce.’ Medical Research Council, UK

‘Advances in genetic understanding and research have caused many ethical issues to arise and have evoked a great deal of controversy. The very practice of genetic research - studying and using DNA - has raised concerns as to what extent we should 'interfere with nature' or 'the fabric of life'. A survey of 1000 people carried out by the UK Human Genetics Commission (HGC) found that 30% thought that genetic research is 'tampering with nature' and is therefore unethical. However, 88% think that new genetics developments will bring cures for many diseases. This illustrates the urgent need for informed debate. The activity of research is carried out within a society and requires the approval or support of that society. Researchers often take a great deal of time and effort to explain what they do and why they do it. But gaps in our knowledge and understanding remain.’

‘Scientists themselves are not always good at judging intelligibility – and why should they be? They are specialists, paid to communicate with fellow specialists.’ John Carey, Editor, Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘Surveys have repeatedly shown that the public is highly interested in the concept that personal genetic information might guide them to better health, but is deeply concerned about potential misuses of that information. Topping the list of concerns is the potential for discrimination in health insurance and employment.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

‘The very word science is best avoided, we were told, because ‘ordinary people’ see it as threatening.’ Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, Penguin, 1998

‘To the real enthusiasts - they call themselves transhumanists - humanity is on the point of being liberated from its biology. In their advocacy of our "technological rights", they believe that human beings are on the brink of a huge leap in development, leaving behind the sick, quarrelsome, weak, fallible creatures we have been up to now. We will be, as their slogan goes, "better than well". It's time we got our heads around this debate on this side of the Atlantic so that we can influence what technologies are developed, rather than leaving it to the scientists and the pharmaceutical and military interests who sponsor their research. There's a growing sense of urgency to get the public debate up to speed with what's at stake. Last week, a remarkable exercise in public consultation in Brussels, Meeting of Minds, drew people from across the EU together to discuss the subject. Next week, the thinktank Demos launches a pamphlet, Better Humans. Oxford University's Said Business School is hosting a big international conference, Tomorrow's People, in March - at which Garreau is a keynote speaker….The point well made by Better Humans is how far advanced public acceptance is of many of the principles that underlie these technologies. So we're not talking about radical new steps, only an acceleration of existing trends. For example, if you can have Viagra for an enhanced sexual life, why not a Viagra for the mind? Is there a meaningful difference? If we show such enthusiasm for "improving" our noses and breasts with cosmetic surgery, why not also improve our brains?...There's no stop button available. Much of the research that could be ultimately used for human enhancement is urgently needed to counter such neuro-degenerative diseases as Alzheimer's. But it's all too possible to envisage how fast, in a competitive, unequal world, we could hurtle towards some horrible futures….There's no point in sci-fi style panic. The best hope lies in the strength and quality of public debate and democratic institutions to regulate and direct the use of these powerful technologies.’ Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, 2006

‘Charles Darwin himself… also strove to reach the general reading public.’ John Carey, Introduction, Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘A survey in 1996 revealed that about one-third of those interviewed thought that only genetically modified tomatoes contained genes - ordinary tomatoes did not.’ Your Genome

Man/furniture morph

Fear and elation - possibility,

science fiction, news, reality;

an opaque language of discovery,

sensational three word headlines -

‘three billion letters of DNA’,

“The handwriting of God” -

mysterious, simple, glorious;

big, dull, incomprehensible -

what seeps into our spong sofas -

comfortable man/furniture morph;

what lodges or sparks - ignites

thought, argument, knowledge.

What passes in the fast, muddy river -

avalanche of news that keeps running

24 hours a day, seven days a week;

from tales of low-fat ostrich steaks,

cat losing tail to killer mouse, jam-loving

budgie, dog’s friendship with a porcupine…

to the hitherto secret blueprint of mankind -

new power to find, change, manipulate, cure;

comprehend the living tools of life,

right now in our own sitting room -

in our own time on this marvellous planet.

Changing over to Morse repeats, X-Factor,

after weary work-weeks, because much easier -

less demanding on rusty, creaking cerebral cells,

than contending with enormity; like turning

over from world events because it is easier

to cope - how much cosier, DVD and takeaway

than looking into this spectacular light, absolute

metaphor; comprehending the slow explosion

of implication - bending such fabulous details

into elastic words that will translate the science,

digestive enzymes for the mind; these moments

we gasp and shake our heads before the television,

just a moment, despite all the things we have seen -

rocked, comprehending, even as the knowledge gap

yawns - closes over us like an aggressive black hole;

and we raise our eyes to the Moon peering

in the curtains, a handful of puny city stars,

feelin that violin note in the soul; wonder,

awe - presence of some beautiful mystery.

‘Most research on public attitudes has shown that people usually immediately reject the notion of reproductive cloning. Depending on the country, people may be more sympathetic to embryo stem cell research because of its claimed future benefits, although they may be uncertain about creating embryos for such purposes. In the UK, qualitative research carried out for the Medical Research Council, when it was considering establishing a stem cell bank, showed that women and couples who have experienced IVF treatment tend to regard embryos as potential babies; those who have not are much more hesitant about research uses of embryos. There was little support among those taking part in this research for the creation of embryos for research by cloning. People also tended to regard therapeutic cloning simply as part of the cloning process as a whole, including reproductive cloning. Other UK research has shown that, while people may find therapeutic cloning acceptable, the types of research and its purposes and possible alternatives are crucial in making such a judgement.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘Results of a  MORI poll commissioned  by a coalition of organisations working in stem cell research on the Use of Human Embryos in Research, is published today. Commenting on the survey, Sir George Radda Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council said: “We have new and unprecedented opportunities in research opening up before us, and organisations involved in stem cell research felt it was important to gauge public opinion about the use of human embryos in research.  “We’re encouraged by the results and hope the public will be reassured that the UK is one of the world leaders in ethically developing this area of research within a strict legal framework.  Stem cell research holds great potential for curing serious and life threatening diseases and we aim to make sure this progresses responsibly for everyone’s benefit. The results of this poll show the British public has a good grasp of the importance of ethical medical research and where it would draw a moral and ethical line. We need to keep them engaged in this debate; their voice is important.’ MORI, 2003

Fifty years after the discovery of the structure of DNA, a public opinion survey has found that people in Britain are well aware of the potential health benefits of DNA-related research. Specifically, 81% are aware of at least one medical application when shown a list of eleven things made possible by the discovery of DNA. A MORI Social Research Institute survey commissioned by the Medical Research Council shows that around 40 per cent of the British public views gene therapy, and understanding and predicting inherited genetic diseases as the DNA applications most beneficial to society. These figures increase to around half the population (in each case) when based on those aware of each application.The survey that looked at public awareness and attitudes toward various DNA related scientific applications and research areas extends our evidence base to inform our engagement with the public on important issues. The results show that the most widely recognised DNA-related technique is DNA fingerprinting at 83 per cent, followed by paternity testing at 80 per cent. Sixty one per cent associate DNA with understanding and predicting inherited genetic diseases. This was followed by genetically modified food at 57 per cent, gene therapy at 55 per cent and tracing ancestry also at 55 per cent. Fifty three per cent made the association between DNA and increasing understanding of the link between genes, environment and lifestyle in causing common diseases. An analysis of the results however shows that the techniques that people were most familiar with were not necessarily those they believed to be most beneficial. When looking at the DNA-related applications most commonly seen as being of greatest benefit to society (by those who showed awareness), paternity testing and fingerprinting ranked below understanding and predicting genetic diseases and gene therapy. Fifty one per cent (of those aware of the development) identified both inherited genetic diseases and gene therapy as providing the greatest benefits to society while 47 per cent said fingerprinting* and only 16 per cent identified paternity testing. Only seven per cent said GM food was most beneficial. Understanding the link between genes, environment and lifestyle in causing disease was seen by 40 per cent as providing the greatest benefit. The findings of the survey are encouraging for MRC scientists conducting research in the area of genetics with the aim of answering vital questions about health and disease.’ Medical Research Council, 2003

What filters through the everyday ether, from the rariefied halls of science,

blinding white - largely translated from Science’s own language – dialects.

Virtually incomprehensible, not only to us, the people, but other scientists -

other tribes, in fiercely difficult separate disciplines. Learned gobbledygook,

explaining the glories of the Universe, wondrous mechanisms of life - impact,

tampering, healing, danger; available now in translation, leaning on journalists, ambassadors to Science, who will bridge for us - understand at one more level

removed. We need them, they must be whiter than white in purpose - unbiased,

neutral; we must perk up, listen better, fleeing as we do into nice, easy thoughts,

imagination - the Orc and Nazgul becoming our enemies - werewolves and mad,

cat-stroking movie scientists intent on world domination until a handsome hero -

or kid, puts an end, phew, to alteration of the planet, or enslavement of mankind.

See how the art of healing is still revered; so much can be digested for medical

results. We are the empathetic species - one of our glories is to imagine feeling

what others feel at the bed of a sick child; dying partner, spouse, parent, friend,

colleague. Or being the one in that bright white bed, our systems all awry. Lines

to be drawn on how far we should go to bring peace to this organism - happiness

in the genes, health to the person, are still written in sand, and society still looking

for sticks. See how the tampering with food instills such fear - rattling the old gods of crop and fruit, still drumming under earth, under concrete, cities; how tampering with the goddesses of seed is unwise, we believe, for reasons born in the very place where science and intuition, religion meet. Believing some things are holy - sacred, is not blind superstition, but human sense, perception, cultured over four billennia - exemplified in the living Genome, her plots and weaving; her prickling starry lights.

‘Because uses of genomics outside the healthcare setting will involve a significantly broader community of stakeholders, both research and policy development in this area must involve individuals and organizations besides those involved in the medical applications of genomics. But many of the same perspectives essential to research and policy development for the medical uses of genomics are also essential. Both the potential users of non-medical applications of genomics and the public need education to understand better the nature and limits of genomic information and to grasp the ethical, legal and social implications of its uses outside health care.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

‘Genetics and genomics can contribute understanding to many areas of biology, health and life. Some of these human applications are controversial, with some members of the public questioning the propriety of their scientific exploration. Although freedom of scientific inquiry has been a cardinal feature of human progress, it is not unbounded. It is important for society to define the appropriate and inappropriate uses of genomics. Conversations between diverse parties based on an accurate and detailed understanding of the relevant science and ethical, legal and social factors will promote the formulation and implementation of effective policies. For instance, in reproductive genetic testing, it is crucial to include perspectives from the disability community. Research should explore how different individuals, cultures and religious traditions view the ethical boundaries for the uses of genomics -  for instance, which sets of values determine attitudes towards the appropriateness of applying genomics to such areas as reproductive genetic testing, 'genetic enhancement' and germline gene transfer.’ A Vision for the Future of Genomics Research, US National Human Genome Research Institute, 2003

‘The survey by the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, showed that 61 per cent of 4005 Americans approved of PGD, the process in which a woman's embryos are genetically tested to see which are free of an inherited disease. Subsequently, the healthy embryos can be tissue-typed to find ones that will match that of the ailing sibling. Once the 'saviour' child is born, their cord blood can be used in a bone marrow transplant for the sibling. However, PGD can also be used to determine the sex of a child. 'Social sex selection' occurs when individuals deliberately choose one gender over the other. In the poll, 57 per cent of Americans rejected this use of genetic testing. This echoes the position of British people. A MORI poll, as part of a consultation carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) on sex selection, showed that 69 per cent of Britons believed that unrestricted sex selection should not be allowed and that 80 per cent believed that PGD should not be allowed for non-medical reasons.’ Wellcome Trust, 2004

‘Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), an ardent Darwinist, was the greatest Victorian scientific popularizer. He coined the wod ‘agnostic’ for disbelievers like himself, and his book, ‘Man’s Place in Nature 1863, impressed humanity’s ape-origins on the public imagination…2000 were turned away in January 1866 when he inaugurated the ‘Sunday Evenings for the People…’ Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘Data generated from the various genome projects and from studies of gene function add a new layer of detail to our knowledge of living organisms and life processes. Used properly, this knowledge can contribute to rapid improvements in health care, agriculture and our stewardship of the environment. Public and professional appreciation of the broader implications of such research, along with informed debate will shape the benefits that society ultimately derives from it.’ Medical Research Council, UK

‘Edison’s laboratory was tonight thrown open to the general public for the inspection of his electric light. Extra trains were run from east to west, and notwithstanding the stormy weather, hundreds of persons availed themselves of the privilege.’ New York Herald, 1879

Given the right presentation

Given the right presentation - they will come -

obscurity because of difficulty, cultural barrier,

calcification of the connecting doors; ignorance

barnacling, unavoidable - but negotiable,

partially solvable by new ways of access,

entry; new classification of understanding,

which is not comprehensive - detailed,

but more flexible and fluid, imprecise;

impressionistic, but not innacurate, or

stupid - insulting to other intelligence.

Illumination is an art, even in science -

but for punters the art must be stronger,

as best route, most palatable solution -

enjoyable; truest light that can be shed

here and now, on Twenty-First Century

science inhabiting its monastic cathedral -

adherents, even, struggling to comprehend

such speciality. Here, the Human Genome,

where science and art meet, is perfect

common ground; symbols, metaphors,

exploration of beauty - all valid, true -

which can welcome everybody in;

going on to wonder about climate,

Nature, black holes, God and stars.

‘The coming of electric light was widely seen as banishing the fear and supersition that darkness had bred.’ John Carey, Editor, Faber Book of Science, 2005

‘GeneWatch believes the Government must act to introduce new laws that allow for public scrutiny and require consultation on whether experiments to create new species should be allowed on social or ethical grounds. They must act quickly or public confidence in the control of science will evaporate.’ Genewatch, 2002

‘GeneWatch UK calls on HFEA to make decisions on cloning in the open and not behind closed doors. Today, GeneWatch UK has written to the chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Suzi Leather, asking for decisions about applications to clone human embryos for research to be open and transparent. Yesterday, the Roslin Institute submitted an application to the HFEA to clone human embryos. The HFEA will not publish the application and holds meetings to consider the research in secret. GeneWatch has written to the HFEA on four occasions since the first application to clone human embyros from Newcastle University, asking for applications to be made public to enable informed commen, but the HFEA has ignored the question. "Whether we go ahead with the cloning of human embryos is an important issue for society, but the HFEA decides for us behind closed doors. There may be reasons to allow embryo cloning research to take place, but this must not be based on false hype and speculation about future cures for diseases", said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch’s Director. "The HFEA is behaving more like a dinosaur, than a modern institution. Paternalism has no place in such far reaching decisions. The HFEA is setting important precedents which demand public scrutiny before it is too late to have influence. There are no commercial or other reasons for decisions about human cloning research applications to be taken behind closed doors. The research is being conducted at public institutes, funded by the public and supposedly for the public good. The public should have the opportunity to make informed comment rather than relying on press releases and news stories alone", said Dr Mayer. "The HFEA has to move out of the dark ages". Genewatch, 2004

There are comprehensible implications

arising from incomprehensible science;

the thing-in-itself, the science, can be converted

into explanatory story chunks, easily digestible -

concentrated for mental sieves to collect essential

information, outcome, clever precis; now required

in the new genetic era - manipulation of basic tools,

deep processes of life. Who should decide, if not us,

the people - representing all of us, collectively - our

predominant shade of kind grey reflecting the world.

‘The Eurobarometer 2005 survey shows that there is widespread public support for medical (red) and industrial (white) biotechnologies, while there is opposition in most European countries to agricultural (green) biotechnologes, such as genetically-modified (GM) food. The survey, taken approximately every 2-3 years, is based on a representative sample of 25 000, approximately 1000 people in every member state. It seeks to paint "a portrait of European citizens" that can be used in policy discussions.’ Wellcome Trust, 2005

“The UK’s scientific advisors had given the GM oilseed rape a clean bill of health in 1997. It was only public opposition that forced more research on environmental effects. The public seem to have a better grasp of science and what lack of knowledge can mean than the ‘experts’,’’ said Dr Mayer. "If the experts’ advice had been followed, we could have been growing this damaging crop in the UK for the past five years. It’s time the scientific establishment took a more rigorous approach to the risks of GM." Genewatch, 2003

The people will prevail, as representing the ethical force

of mankind - not one specialist group or another, biased,

self-interested, but the bashing back and forth of argument,

beating of concepts until the truest - best shape is revealed.

The most shining trophy of which we can feel proud;

this is what was done then, in all our names, the best

possible outcome with that amount of knowledge -

our intention always for good; global responsibility. 

‘MEPs in the EU Parliament today voted to reflect the concerns of consumers about genetically modified (GM) food. The new rules mean that all GM food and animal feed ingredients will now be labelled. Currently, only products which contain GM DNA and/or protein have to be labelled. The new rules mean that products such as vegetable oil, found in a huge range of processed foods, will now also have to be labelled. They also mean that the rules for human food labelling will also apply to animal feed.’ Genewatch, 2002

The people will prevail where there is will towards good;

attention to activity going on unseen beneath their noses -

arcane, stupendous; breathtaking in implication, achievement -

but of immense power; unbridled, huge capacity for destruction,

alteration of the organic fabric. And in its right hand, healing,

furtherance of civilisation, assistance to the needy, crying out

in so much darkness; where already there is light now, available,

light increasing; revelation of original light as might be intended.


‘The conclusive results of a new  MORI poll show that the vast majority of the British public support tightening the controls on waste disposal from factories and laboratories using genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs). Commissioned by GeneWatch UK, the independent policy research group that monitors developments in genetic engineering, the poll shows that: 83% believe that limits should be set on the release of GMMs in waste – only 3% disagree; 88% believe that waste from factories and laboratories using GMMs should be monitored – only 2% disagree; 86% believe that information about the use of GMMs and waste should be freely available to the public – only 3% disagree. GMMs are being used throughout the UK for research and to make drugs. However, research conducted by GeneWatch UK last year revealed that living GMMs are being released into rivers and the atmosphere in waste from factories and laboratories, unmonitored by any Government agency.’ Genewatch, UK

‘The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is seeking public opinions on whether the HFEA should extend its options for embryo screening. At present, screening is available for parents with a family history of several serious conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington's disease. Ten fertility clinics in the UK are licensed to test embryos. Through the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a woman's embryos can be screened for the gene for the condition in question. Embryos free of the disease are chosen and reimplanted, thus avoiding passing on the faulty gene. Now, as more genes are being linked to the incidence of other diseases, such as various cancers, the HFEA expects more requests for embryo screening. For example, last year the HFEA licensed a clinic at University College London to screen for familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). FAP has been linked to some bowel cancers. The HFEA notes that their policy team has been reviewing this issue, aware that screening can now be done for inherited breast cancer, inherited ovarian cancer and hereditary non polyposis colon cancer, amongst others cancers. But those who inherit these gene variants might never go on to suffer from the disease, as these conditions are not 'fully penetrant'. This has raised ethical questions.In order to inform their policy decisions, the HFEA is asking the public their views about the acceptability of extending embryo screening to diseases that a person might develop in later life or might not develop at all.’ The Public Health Genetics Unit, 2005

Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
        Designer Children
        Opinion Polls/Public
    Blood Poems
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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