The Role of Public Opinion in the Regulation of Genomics in the United Kingdom
Getliffe, Kate Sarah
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis analyses the role played by public opinion in the regulation of genomics, and conversely the role that regulation plays in shaping public opinion. It is argued that there has been an over-emphasis on the use of public opinion by regulators, and that this is a rhetorical strategy. There are strong normative drivers behind the regulation of genomics, which include the argument that regulation has the capacity to imbue public confidence in novel technologies and that enhanced deliberation will help to placate public concerns. While not dismissing these arguments, the thesis shows that in practice the interaction between regulation and public opinion is not so clear. It is argued that both regulation per se and the very existence and visible presence of independent regulatory agencies overseeing genomics can help to alleviate public concern. A key finding is that although regulators refer to public opinion, in practice they actually respond to stakeholder opinion. The thesis analyses the classic interpretation of public opinion, survey data, and contrasts it with regulators’ understandings of public opinion and with public opinion data collected by independent regulatory agencies. The regulators interviewed agree that the public opinion data used in the regulatory process is not representative of public opinion. However, public opinion is still used as a way of legitimating policy. It is for this reason that I suggest ‘public opinion’ should, for reasons of transparency, be called ‘public opinion data’. Such a move would reflect its value in the regulatory process, but equally indicate that such data has inherent limitations. The argument is supported by evidence from two case-studies from genomics, both of which are significant areas of scientific and public concern. The first is prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the second is Genetically Modified foods. The thesis questions whether the sui generis features of genomics merit its special regulatory handling and the enhanced role given to public opinion in this area.
PhD in Genomics in Society