Bioethics Blogs

The “Public Mistrust Crisis” and How to Address It: Engagement, Inclusivity, and Ethics

Recommendations for improved public engagement in discussions on emerging biotechnology: Article three in the series on emerging biotechnology.

BY SAM WU, BS and KEVIN T. FITZGERALD, SJ, PhD

 

“To move ahead on important national issues without public support is to invite being undermined in the long run.”

– Daniel Yankelovich, Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World

Scientists perceive the public as both critical of and influential on the progress of science. Yet at the same time, scientists fear or distrust public input into the scientific research arena because they perceive the public as more likely to impede or misdirect the research process due to their lack of understanding of science and research.

Recent advances in science demonstrate the field’s far-reaching societal implications, from industry to medicine to what it means to be human. As Yankelovich stated, “to move ahead on important national issues without public support is to invite being undermined in the long run.” This statement makes the supposed “public mistrust crisis” all the more disturbing, and the need to do something about it all the more imperative. We are at a point where many experts would agree that there is a need to build public trust, but recommendations on how to do so vary considerably.

Some call for more inclusive discussions to help develop alternative solutions. Others blame the media and point to the need for the scientific community to take responsibility for communicating effectively with the public about their research, which can mean determining risks, benefits, and goals without public input.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.