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Study shows half of Canadians trust scientific experts

Ottawa, ON – Who should make decisions about new technologies like stem cell research and biotechnology? According to a study that was published in the December 23, 2005 edition of the journal Science, about half of Canadians trust scientific experts to make choices based on scientific evidence.

A team of social scientists from Canada, the US and the UK collaborated on the study that investigated issues of governance: who controls technology and the decision-making process of science. The study was funded by Genome Canada and Genome Prairie, and involved over 28,000 respondents in Canada, the US and Europe.

The results show that half of Canadians favour using scientific evidence as a basis for decision-making, a result that was similar to the US and Europe. Close to one-quarter of Canadians think public opinion should be the determining factor, with the remainder supporting the view of bioethical experts. Overall, people’s preferences about who should govern science, and on what basis, were found to be related to their opinions about the utility of science and the regulation on genetically modified food and stem cell research.

“We are holding up a mirror to ourselves to display our hopes for the future,” said study co-author Dr Edna Einsiedel from the University of Calgary. “Canadians know these new technologies come with value-laden questions. And despite some concerns about science and technology, there is a growing acceptance of technology among Canadians provided regulatory policies are in place that benefit society at large.”

“This is a unique study that showcases societal perception of technology and progress,” says Dr Martin Godbout, president and CEO of Genome Canada. “Genome Canada is not only funding large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects, but it is also leading the study and discussion on ethical, environmental, economic, social and legal issues surrounding this type of research. Understanding these issues is key to managing science for the benefit of all Canadians.”