Public discourse and scientific controversy: A spiral of silence analysis of biotechnology opinion in the U.S.

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Spiral-of-silence theory tries to account for the dynamics through which visible dissent decreases as public opinion begins to appear hegemonic; it argues that fear of social isolation inhibits the expression of opinions perceived to be in the minority. This analysis applies spiral-of-silence theory to public opinion about biotechnology in the United States. Although comparisons to Europe may disguise this fact, a substantial minority of United States citizens have reservations about biotechnology and genetic engineering. Our exploratory analysis reveals some evidence that a spiral of silence developed for these issues, as well as uncovering more willingness to speak among those who believe themselves more knowledgeable about science and differences in willingness among groups who apply different forms of moral reasoning to biotechnology issues. The results have implications for recognizing the privileged position of consequentialist or utilitarian arguments about science and technology in United States society.


Bioethics; Biotechnology – Public opinion; Ethical issues; Public opinion; Spiral of silence


Ethics and Political Philosophy | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Science and Technology Policy | Science and Technology Studies | Social Influence and Political Communication


Written with assistance from J. Lee and G. Sivakumar.

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