Gene week: a novel way of consulting the public

Abstract
Within academic circles, the “deficit” model of public understanding of science has been subject to increasing critical scrutiny by those who favor more constructivist approaches. These suggest that “the public” can articulate sophisticated ideas about the social and ethical implications of science regardless of their level of technical knowledge. The seminal studies following constructivist approaches have generally involved small-scale qualitative investigations, which have minimized the pre-framing of issues to a greater or lesser extent. This article describes the Gene Week Project, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, which attempted to extend this work to a large-scale consultation on genetics and health through the medium of a local daily newspaper. Readers were invited to respond to a set of open-ended questions that accompanied stimulus material published each day for five consecutive weekdays. The articles were written with the intention of extending the limited range of discourses around genetics and biotechnology that are usually presented by the popular media (hope, fear, tragedy and bravery). Responses raised overarching issues about the place of emerging health technologies in society reminiscent of previous open-ended consultations in this field. The paper ends with a critical discussion about the potential of this method to contribute to the further development of open-ended public consultations
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