PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


A second South African public perceptions survey on attitudes towards biotechnology

Michael Ellis  

Nurturing a constructive relationship between the public and the institutions of science has numerous benefits. By making more informed decisions regarding scientific topics, individuals can improve their quality of life, and better contribute to social development. A more engaged public may be better positioned to adapt to changes in the science and technology environment and exploit new technologies. Greater engagement with the sciences can lead to a more highly skilled workforce and consequent economic development. Elam and Bertilsson (2002) frame science engagement as a process of deliberative democracy that requires the establishment of equality between the public and the science establishment in order to create socially sustainable policies. Overall, such engagement makes the government and scientific institutions more accountable to the public, and improves the transparency and legitimacy of the science policy process. Biotechnology is an ongoing focus area for the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST). The Bio-economy Strategy of 2014 represents an advance from the 2001 National Biotechnology Strategy, and also includes support for initiatives to promote public understanding of the technologies underpinning the bio-economy. The Public Understanding of Biotechnology (PUB) programme, an initiative of the DST which is implemented by the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) has commissioned a research project to undertake a national survey of the South African public's perceptions of biotechnology. This includes perceptions of biotechnology in general, of biotechnology-related applications, and of sub-fields within the broader field of biotechnology, including controversial aspects, such as the genetic modification of agricultural products. The overarching aim of the project is to provide data and analysis that will inform evidence-based policies and strategies related to biotechnology, particularly in terms of science advancement, awareness, and communication strategies.

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