860   Individual paper

Enabling decision-relevant debates about human genome editing

Author: Nicole Krause
University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

International attention to ethical and societal implications of human gene editing (HGE) is growing. A worldwide chorus of scientists, government organizations, journalists, and lay publics are calling for increased deliberation about the implications and responsible governance of HGE. However, concrete recommendations for how to implement public engagement with controversial science in real-world environments are scarce, and efforts are further complicated by media environments that encourage ideological fragmentation, spread of misinformation, and intensifying polarization.

To fill this void, our research explores strategies for facilitating productive discussions of HGE in practical settings, to encourage individuals to seek information that supports democratically healthy patterns of opinion formation and good-faith consideration of diverse viewpoints. A first experimental study examines the effects of two types of stimuli on information-seeking behavior: (1) a description of HGE as value-laden and controversial (or not), and (2) a manipulation of participants’ perceptions of opinion climates such that they believe fellow participants hold views on HGE that are similar to their own, different, mixed, or unknown. Subsequently, participants have eight minutes to select from a menu of HGE news articles offering positive, negative, or balanced considerations in a general news, science news, or editorial format.

Our initial results suggest that priming individuals to the thorny nature of HGE discussions and variations in opinion climate significantly predict information-seeking and -processing strategies. We believe the information-seeking patterns catalyzed by our experimental stimuli can provide important insights into how public debate on this issue may evolve in the future, if or when new developments prompt the issue into a more prominent place within popular discourse. Further, these findings suggest that there may be clearly identifiable strategies for stimulating engagement with ethical and societal questions surrounding HGE that departs from all-too-familiar patterns of ideological fragmentation and polarization plaguing other scientific topics of public concern.

Co-author: Emily Howell
University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

Co-author: Michael Xenos
University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

Co-author: Dietram Scheufele
University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

Co-author: Dominique Brossard
University of Wisconsin - Madison, United States

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