Public Understanding of Genetics: The Deficit Model

Abstract

Genetics is relevant to many aspects of our lives. According to the deficit model of public understanding, any misgivings that people have about genetics and its applications are caused by a lack of understanding. Consequently, education in genetics is expected to lead to improved literacy in, and therefore support for, this area. However, studies show that education does not automatically lead to increased public support and that increased knowledge of controversial research may lead to decreased support for it. Understanding is thus a complex and dynamic process which depends on people's prior knowledge and on their social and cultural locations. Members of the public should not be seen as deficient in understanding. Rather, they have sophisticated understandings which should be acknowledged. Public support for genetics cannot be improved simply through more or better education; alternatives such as public engagement in science or institutional changes promoting trustworthiness may be more useful.

Key Concepts

  • According to the deficit model, lack of public understanding of genetics leads to an inability to fully participate in social life and potentially lack of support for new technologies. This can be remedied by education.
  • According to critical approaches to public understanding, understanding is a complex process that involves social and cultural factors.
  • Public understanding of genetics is more sophisticated than the deficit model assumes.
  • The idea of lay expertise suggests that people who are not certified scientists may nonetheless have useful and relevant, often experience‐based, knowledge that helps them make sense of science and genetics.
  • Public engagement, where people with different kinds of knowledge and opinions are consulted instead of merely educated, may help improve science–society relations.
  • The deficit model is a sticky concept: it remains popular in some areas of science, policy and science communication despite its shortcomings.

Keywords: genetics; citizenship; public understanding; genetic literacy; participation; lay expertise, critical public understanding of science

References

Aitken M, Cunningham‐Burley S and Pagliari C (2016) Moving from trust to trustworthiness: experiences of public engagement in the Scottish Health Informatics Programme. Science and Public Policy. Advance Access published May 11, 2016.

Allum N, Sturgis P, Tabourazi D and Brunton‐Smith I (2008) Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: a meta‐analysis. Public Understanding of Science 17: 35–54.

Allum N, Sibley E, Sturgis P and Stoneman P (2014) Religious beliefs, knowledge about science and attitudes towards medical genetics. Public Understanding of Science 23: 833–849.

ASCB (2009) ASCB Statement in Support of Research on Genetically Modified Organisms. http://www.ascb.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=315&Itemid=31. Accessed on 15 July 2009.

ASCB (2016) Science Public Outreach–Supporting Those Who Do. http://www.ascb.org/can‐the‐science‐paradox‐be‐resolved/. Accessed on 10 July 2016.

Balmer C, Griffiths F and Dunn J (2014) A qualitative systematic review exploring lay understanding of cancer by adults without a cancer diagnosis. Journal of Advanced Nursing 70: 1688–1701.

Bauer MW, Allum N and Miller S (2007) What Can We learn from 25 years of PUS Survey Research? Liberating and expanding the agenda. Public Understanding of Science 16: 79–95.

Bauer MW (2016) Results of the essay competition on the ‘deficit concept’. Public Understanding of Science 25: 398–399.

Bhatta A and Misra KD (2016) Biotechnology communication needs a rethink. Current Science 110: 573–578.

Collins HM and Evans R (2002) The third wave of science studies: studies of expertise and experience. Social Studies of Science 32: 235–296.

Condit C (1999a) How the public understands genetics: non‐deterministic and non‐discriminatory interpretations of the ‘blueprint’ metaphor. Public Understanding of Science 8: 169–180.

Condit C (1999b) The Meanings of the Gene: Public Debates about Human Heredity. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Condit C (2001) What is ‘public opinion about genetics’? Nature Reviews Genetics 2: 811–815.

Condit CM (2010) Public attitudes and beliefs about genetics. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics 11: 339–359.

Cortassa C (2016) In science communication, Why does the idea of a public deficit always return? The eternal recurrence of the public deficit. Public Understanding of Science 25: 447–459.

Cunningham‐Burley S (2006) Public knowledge and public trust. Community Genetics 9: 204–210.

Deutsche Welle (2008) Public Needs Better Understanding of Genetics, Expert Says. http://www.dw.com/en/public‐needs‐better‐understanding‐of‐genetics‐expert‐says/a‐3524469. Accessed on 11 October 2016.

Engdahl Emma and Rolf Lidskog (2014) Risk, Communication and Trust: Towards an Emotional Understanding of Trust. Public Understanding of Science 23 (6): 703–717. DOI: 10.1177/0963662512460953.

Etchegary H (2014) Public attitudes toward genetic risk testing and its role in healthcare. Personalized Medicine 11: 509–522.

Evans G and Durant J (1995) The relationship between knowledge and attitudes in the public understanding of science in Britain. Public Understanding of Science 4: 57–74.

Fan M‐F (2015) Evaluating the 2008 consensus conference on genetically modified foods in Taiwan. Public Understanding of Science 24: 533–546.

Henneman L, Timmermans DRM and Van der Wal G (2004) Public experiences, knowledge and expectations about medical genetics and the use of genetic information. Community Genetics 7: 33–43.

Henneman L, Vermeulen E, Van El CG, et al. (2013) Public attitudes towards genetic testing revisited: comparing opinions between 2002 and 2010. European Journal of Human Genetics 21: 793–799.

HGC (2001) Public Attitudes to Human Genetic Information, People's Panel Quantitative Study Conducted for the Human Genetics Commission. https://www.ipsos‐mori.com/assets/docs/archive/polls/hgcrep.pdf. Accessed on 11 October 2016.

HGC (2002) The Supply of Genetic Tests Direct to the Public: A Consultation Document. London, UK: HGC.

HGC (2006) Making Babies: Reproductive Decisions and Genetic Technologies. London, UK: HGC.

HGC (2011) Human Genetics Commission Home Page. http://wayback.archive.org/web/20111017054912/http://www.hgc.gov.uk/Client/index.asp?ContentId=1. Accessed on 14 July 2016.

Hickman F, Kennedy M and McInerny J (1978) Human genetics education: result of BSCS needs assessment surveys. American Biology Teacher 38: 285–308.

Irwin A (1995) Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise and Sustainable Development. London, UK: Routledge.

Irwin A and Wynne B (eds) (1996) Misunderstanding Science? The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Irwin A (2001) Constructing the scientific citizen: science and democracy in the biosciences. Public Understanding of Science 10: 1–18.

Irwin A (2006) The politics of talk: coming to terms with the ‘new’ scientific governance. Social Studies of Science 36: 299–320.

Irwin A (2014) Risk, science and public communication: third‐order thinking about scientific culture. In: Bucchi M and Trench B (eds) Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology, 2nd edn, pp. 160–172. London and New York: Routledge.

Ishiyama I, Tanzawa T, Watanabe M, et al. (2012) Public attitudes to the promotion of genomic crop studies in Japan: correlations between genomic literacy, trust, and favourable attitude. Public Understanding of Science 21: 495–512.

Kerr A and Cunningham‐Burley S (1998) The new genetics and health: mobilizing lay expertise. Public Understanding of Science 7: 41–60.

Kurath M (2016) The culture of science: how the public relates to science across the globe. New Genetics and Society 35: 90–92.

Lambert H and Rose H (1996) Disembodied knowledge? Making sense of medical science. In: Irwin A and Wynne B (eds) Misunderstanding Science: The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology, pp. 65–83. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lanie AD, Jayaratne TE, Sheldon JP, et al. (2004) Exploring the public understanding of basic genetic concepts. Journal of Genetic Counseling 13: 305–320.

Layton D, Jenkins E, MacGill S and Davey A (1992) Inarticulate Science? Perspectives on the Public Understanding of Science and Some Implications for Science Education. Driffield, UK: Studies in Education Limited.

Marks NJ and Russell AW (2015) Public engagement in biosciences and biotechnologies: reflections on the role of sociology and STS. Journal of Sociology 51: 97–115.

Martin S and Tait J (1993) Release of Genetically Modified Organisms: Public Attitudes and Understanding. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University, Centre for Technology Strategy.

Martin PM (1998) Lay understanding of Mendelian genetics. Endeavour 22: 92–93.

Meyer G (2016) In science communication, why does the idea of a public deficit always return? Public Understanding of Science 25: 433–446.

Moore A (2010) Public bioethics and public engagement: the politics of “proper talk”. Public Understanding of Science 19: 197–211.

Myers M, Bernhardt B, Tambor E and Holtzman N (1994) Involving consumers in the development of an educational program for cystic fibrosis carrier screening. American Journal of Human Genetics 54: 719–726.

Nelkin D and Lindee S (1995) The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon. New York: WH Freeman.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics (1993) Genetic Screening – Ethical Issues. London, UK: Nuffield Foundation.

Rapp R (1988) Chromosomes and communication: the discourse of genetic counseling. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 2: 143–157.

Richards M (1996) Lay and professional knowledge of genetics and inheritance. Public Understanding of Science 5: 217–230.

Sanders T, Campbell R, Donovan J and Sharp D (2007) Narrative accounts of hereditary risk: knowledge about family history, lay theories of disease and ‘internal’ and ‘external’ causation. Qualitative Health Research 17: 510–520.

Simis MJ, Madden H, Cacciatore MA and Yeo SK (2016) The lure of rationality: why does the deficit model persist in science communication? Public Understanding of Science 25: 400–414.

Sharon T (2015) Healthy citizenship beyond autonomy and discipline: tactical engagements with genetic testing. BioSocieties 10: 295–316.

Soulier A, Leonar S and Cambon‐Thomsen A (2016) From the arcane to the mundane: engaging French publics in discussing clinical applications of genomic technology. New Genetics and Society 35: 1–28.

Steinbach RJ, Allyse M, Michie M, Liu EY and Cho MK (2016) “This lifetime commitment”: public conceptions of disability and noninvasive prenatal genetic screening. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A 170: 363–374.

Suldovsky B (2016) In science communication, Why does the idea of the public deficit always return? Exploring key influences. Public Understanding of Science 25: 415–426.

Sturgis P and Allum N (2004) Science in society: re‐evaluating the deficit model of public attitudes. Public Understanding of Science 13: 55–74.

Vermeulen E, Henneman L, Van El CG and Cornel MC (2014) Public attitudes towards preventive genomics and personal interest in genetic testing to prevent disease: a survey study. European Journal of Public Health 24: 768–775.

West KM, Hopkins SE, Hopper KJ, Mohatt GV and Boyer BB (2013) Found in translation: decoding local understandings of genetics and heredity in a Yup'ik Eskimo community. Public Understanding of Science 22: 80–90.

WHO (2016) Genes and Human Disease. http://www.who.int/genomics/public/geneticdiseases/en/index3.html. Accessed on 6 July 2016.

Wynne B (1991) Knowledges in context. Science, Technology & Human Values 16: 111–121.

Wynne B (2006) Public engagement as a means of restoring public trust in science – hitting the notes, but missing the music? Community Genetics 9: 211–220.

Further Reading

Atkinson P, Glasner P and Lock M (eds) (2009) Handbook of Genetics and Society: Mapping the New Genomic Era. London and New‐York: Routledge.

Bucchi M and Trench B (2014) Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology. London and New York: Routledge.

Conrad P and Gabe J (eds) (1999) Sociological Perspectives on the New Genetics. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Goven J (2006) Processes of inclusion, cultures of calculation, structures of power; scientific citizenship and the royal commission on genetic modification. Science, Technology & Human Values 31: 565–598.

Irwin A and Michael M (2003) Science, Social Theory and Public Knowledge. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Marks, Nicola J(Nov 2016) Public Understanding of Genetics: The Deficit Model. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005862.pub3]