HKS Authors

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Like lay people, experts vary in their technology optimism or pessimism about scientific endeavors, for reasons that are poorly understood. We explore experts’ technology optimism through a focus on genomics; its novelty, life-and-death implications, complex technology, and broad but as yet unknown societal implications make it an excellent subject for studying views about new knowledge. We use interviews with scientific and medical elites to show a wide range of views about genomics, and we analyze about 750 articles by prominent social scientists, law professors, and biologists to explore how values and norms reinforce or supersede experts’ shared scientific knowledge. We find that experts in some fields give genomics more attention than experts in others; that they differ in the aspects of genomics on which they focus; and that within a discipline or field, scholars differ in the extent to which they find genomics attractive or aversive. Overall, however, experts in more liberal or humanities-oriented disciplines tend to be less optimistic about genomics than scholars in relatively more conservative or scientifically oriented disciplines. We speculate on why genomics is an exception to the usual finding that liberals support science more than conservatives do.


Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Maya Sen. "Technology Optimism or Pessimism about Genomic Science: Variation among Experts and Scholarly Disciplines." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658.1 (March 2015): 236-252.