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Public concern over sensitive technologies

Eurobarometer surveys offer important insights into public perception on developments and progress across the European Union. A consortium of researchers worked to add further value to the 2010 Eurobarometer Survey on the Life Sciences and Sensitive Technologies.

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The 'Sensitive technologies and European public ethics' (STEPE) project was established to help develop socially sustainable European and national innovation policies on technological innovation. Team members sought to enhance academic input and extract more relevant information from the survey data, so as to increase our understanding of the role of public ethics and opinion on the topic of biotechnology. Sustainable technology development is underpinned by broader public concerns, which STEPE conceptualised as 'public ethics'. The project's approach contributes to early identification of potentially controversial technological developments and related public ethics. The issues relevant to key stakeholders in related areas were considered, as were the perceptions of citizens in 25 European Member States. Project work involved research, expert interviews, the design, analysis and reporting of the 2010 Eurobarometer survey on life sciences and biotechnology, and application of advanced multivariate statistical procedures to facilitate data analysis. Amongst other findings, investigations revealed that recent years have seen a shift in public concerns: the dominant issue is now related to the content of sensitive technological innovations. For example, pertinent questions relate to the safety of technologies, their usefulness vis-à-vis dwindling resources, and whether there may be alternatives with more acceptable ethical and moral implications. By evolving a better understanding of European public ethics, STEPE results serve to stimulate new, empirically grounded thinking on the topic, and support a new era in relations between science and society. The outcomes of this exercise contribute to wider debates as well as to policymaking on responsible technological innovation. As such, citizens across Europe should feel more secure in knowing that innovation not only aims to improve the quality of their lives, but also, critically, respects how they want to live their lives.

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