Social Science Perspectives on Biotechnology

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  • Dr. Lori Garkovich is a Professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development. Ms. Valerie Askren is a Research Specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics. This presentation was given at the National Science Teacher Association’s annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky October 25, 2002. Please see the Educator’s Notes that accompany this slide show.
  • Have students develop their own definition of “Biotechnology” prior to showing these “textbook” definitions. Discuss the difference between the first definition (an earlier, more general definition) and the latter (much more specific, and reflective of current connotative use.)
  • Comments on Disruptive technologies
    “Disruptive technology” is a “new economy” term that has seen increased use by those interested in technological innovation. In contrast, “incremental technologies” are those technologies that utilize change at the margin. The example of an incremental technology is the conventional cross-breeding of a red petunia with a white petunia, to get a red/white striped petunia. Another example might be incremental changes in word processing software. In general, incremental technologies are easily accepted and widely-valued, although many do use the slippery slope argument to counter suspected long-term impacts.
    A “disruptive technology” refers to those technological innovations that are truly “paradigm shifting” (to use an older, over-used and burnt-out term!). Disruptive technologies alter the way in which we see and interact with the world. Examples might include geothermal or solar power, or medical vaccinations. Although the term “disruptive technology” may sound as if it has a negative connotation, that is not the intent of the descriptor or the user. (Interestingly, back in the 1920's and 30's, plant hybridization would have been deemed a “disruptive technology”.)
    By definition, disruptive technologies do not blur the line between nature and manmade processes. But, many people who object to the use of biotechnology view it as such, and therefore regard it as suspect. Part of this group would argue that agricultural applications of biotech, and medical ones as well, are indeed “playing god” (for example, Seventh-Day Adventist). While Askren and Garkovich are not espousing this view, it is a common criticism of biotechnology.
    Of course, biotech is not the only thing that “offers enormous power to alter the fundamental character of life”! Remember “Quest for Fire”, the movie about how the ability to create and preserve fire changed the migration patterns, diet, nutrition, and life span of early man? Thus, those things that do offer this enormous power are not necessarily “bad” things. Yet these disruptive technologies cause us to pause a little longer and evaluate a little more rigorously. Obviously, these concerns lead to a more emotional reaction to the debate. And unfortunately, “good scientific rigor” may go by the way-side.
  • “Think, Write, Pair, Share” exercises are wonderful ways to get your students to formulate their own ideas prior to hearing other’s respond to your questions. (Remember, the fastest thinkers are not always the best thinkers!) Have students do this in pairs; then ask for responses to your question. Results can also be collected for points.
  • Have students think of other examples in which sides of an issue are polarized. What are the dangers of creating dichotomies?
  • Comments on Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Objections:
    These terms are simply one way to formulate ethical arguments for and against something, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of the issue. Intrinsic objections basically argue that the ends do not justify the means. For example, if you believe that taking another life is wrong under any circumstances, the “good” that could come out of “murder” is irrelevant. That would include taking another life in war, for self-defense, or to protect your daughter from a rapist.
    Thus, if someone finds that “any technique that uses living organisms...” is unacceptable based on intrinsic objections, biotechnology would be unacceptable. Period.
    Extrinsic objections argue that the means may be acceptable, but the ends are not. Using the example above, it may be permissible to “take another life” under certain conditions but not others (just because that $*#* took your parking space!).
    This exercise was to simply help students analyze in a more structured manner why they object to biotechnology (or anything else for that matter). Further, if their arguments fall under the extrinsic objections category, using sound logical analysis, a person can better explore under what conditions do they find biotechnology acceptable and why. Is Bt corn ok - but human cloning not? This would incorporate the possible positive social and/or environmental consequences regarding biotechnology. This discussion is also a perfect lead-in to classroom activities on risk identification, assessment and management.
  • Dynamite!
    This is an excellent example of something that few people have intrinsic objections to, but might have extrinsic objections. We can add some other examples, but the bottom line is that although many technologies “by their very nature are quite dangerous”, some have had wonderfully positive consequences for humankind. Dynamite falls into that category. By using a colorful example, you grab a students interest and keep them engaged. The intent was not to directly compare dynamite to biotechnology. Using cell phones is another example.
  • Business of Biotechnology
    Obviously, biotechnology is not the only science that has been corrupted - if it has been “corrupted” at all. One could argue that all sciences have been corrupted by the profit motive - Provision of AIDS treatments to African populations? The Tuskegee experiment? Food aid? Isn’t international aid of all kinds simply neocolonialistic? The point is - some people argue that this is a valid criticism of biotech research. And equally importantly - what are the counter arguments to this assertion? It is important to discuss both in detail.
  • Genetic Pollution
    This is a term widely recognized in the biotech debates. It also an emotional term - therefore - wonderful for stimulating further debate amongst students. Critical thinking about what constitutes pollution is exactly our intent. This is also an inflammatory term that the anti-biotech activists use to frame the issue. That’s why we chose it for a classroom activity.
  • Public hearing
    This could also have been a pubic hearing to consider a proposal to increase public funding, or a host of other ideas. The public hearing format is simply a device to get students to study an issue, understand both sides of a debate, articulate a position, and participate in both written and public communication formats.
  • This data is available on the United States Department of Agriculture’s web page at http://www.usda.gov/
  • This data is available on The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri‑biotech Applications (ISAAA) web page at http://www.isaaa.org/
  • Social Science Perspectives on Biotechnology

    1. 1. Socioeconomics andSocioeconomics and Agricultural Biotechnology:Agricultural Biotechnology: The ChallengesThe Challenges Lori Garkovich and Valerie AskrenLori Garkovich and Valerie Askren University of KentuckyUniversity of Kentucky
    2. 2. What is Biotechnology?What is Biotechnology? Common DefinitionsCommon Definitions • Any technique that uses living organisms, orAny technique that uses living organisms, or substances from those organisms, to make asubstances from those organisms, to make a product, improve plants or animals, or developproduct, improve plants or animals, or develop microorganisms for specific usesmicroorganisms for specific uses • Any technique that deliberately manipulatesAny technique that deliberately manipulates the molecules that carry genetic informationthe molecules that carry genetic information What’s the difference?
    3. 3. Why is Biotechnology so Exciting?Why is Biotechnology so Exciting?  Strikes at the heart of many issues!Strikes at the heart of many issues!  Incremental versus Disruptive TechnologiesIncremental versus Disruptive Technologies  Is it simply an emotional reaction?Is it simply an emotional reaction?  Does biotechnology blur the line between nature and man-Does biotechnology blur the line between nature and man- made?made?  Does it offer enormous power to alter the fundamentalDoes it offer enormous power to alter the fundamental character of life?character of life?  First and second generation benefitsFirst and second generation benefits  Importance of multidisciplinary perspectives andImportance of multidisciplinary perspectives and bioethics to the physical sciencesbioethics to the physical sciences
    4. 4. Classroom Activity:Classroom Activity: Think, Write, Pair, ShareThink, Write, Pair, Share  If you could clone something or someone,If you could clone something or someone, what would it be? What would be thewhat would it be? What would be the consequences of doing so?consequences of doing so?  Divide into pairs. Agree to share one geneticDivide into pairs. Agree to share one genetic trait with another student. What trait wouldtrait with another student. What trait would you want and why? How would you expectyou want and why? How would you expect your life to change?your life to change?
    5. 5. Framing the DiscussionFraming the Discussion  The way we frame an issue influences how weThe way we frame an issue influences how we understand its implications and also how weunderstand its implications and also how we think about alternativesthink about alternatives  Who shapes the framing determines theWho shapes the framing determines the message’s contentmessage’s content
    6. 6. Framing the Biotechnology Issue:Framing the Biotechnology Issue: Creating PolarityCreating Polarity  Biotech firms andBiotech firms and scientists have framedscientists have framed the issue as one ofthe issue as one of science and technologyscience and technology applied to enhancing theapplied to enhancing the quality of lifequality of life  Biotech opponents haveBiotech opponents have framed the issue as aframed the issue as a profit-driven effortprofit-driven effort regardless of the risk toregardless of the risk to human health, socialhuman health, social equity or environmentalequity or environmental qualityquality
    7. 7. Framing the Issue:Framing the Issue: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities  Have students research a biotechnology issue.Have students research a biotechnology issue. Using the internet, collect articles that frame theUsing the internet, collect articles that frame the same “advancement” in different lights. Assesssame “advancement” in different lights. Assess scientific accuracy of claims.scientific accuracy of claims.  Possible Issues:Possible Issues:  Golden RiceGolden Rice  Bt crops and the Monarch butterflyBt crops and the Monarch butterfly  Terminator gene technologyTerminator gene technology
    8. 8. TheThe BioethicalBioethical ChallengeChallenge Is Biotechnology Morally Acceptable?Is Biotechnology Morally Acceptable?
    9. 9. Two Kinds of Ethical Arguments Used toTwo Kinds of Ethical Arguments Used to Evaluate Concerns Over BiotechnologyEvaluate Concerns Over Biotechnology  Intrinsic objectionsIntrinsic objections say the process ofsay the process of biotechnology is objectionable in itselfbiotechnology is objectionable in itself  Extrinsic objectionsExtrinsic objections say the possiblesay the possible consequences of some biotech applications areconsequences of some biotech applications are objectionable, but others may be acceptableobjectionable, but others may be acceptable
    10. 10. The Bioethical Challenge:The Bioethical Challenge: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities  Identify the possible intrinsic and the extrinsicIdentify the possible intrinsic and the extrinsic objections related to:objections related to:  previous classroom experimentsprevious classroom experiments  recent scientific breakthroughs, as reported in therecent scientific breakthroughs, as reported in the popular press and science magazines (e.g., homepopular press and science magazines (e.g., home drug-use testing kits for parents to use to monitordrug-use testing kits for parents to use to monitor their children)their children)  historical scientific advancements (e.g., thehistorical scientific advancements (e.g., the development of dynamite, or cell phonedevelopment of dynamite, or cell phone technology and adoption)technology and adoption)
    11. 11. The BusinessThe Business of Scienceof Science ChallengeChallenge Does the business of biotechnology corrupt the purpose andDoes the business of biotechnology corrupt the purpose and integrity of the process of the science?integrity of the process of the science? Or can business and scientific partnerships be beneficialOr can business and scientific partnerships be beneficial for society?for society?
    12. 12. The Business of ScienceThe Business of Science  Critics:Critics:  Focusing on profits contradicts the purpose of science - toFocusing on profits contradicts the purpose of science - to enhance or improve the quality of lifeenhance or improve the quality of life  Biotechnology commodifies life and leads to reductionistBiotechnology commodifies life and leads to reductionist sciencescience  Advocates:Advocates:  The spiraling costs of R & D required to bring a product toThe spiraling costs of R & D required to bring a product to market justifies the closer ties of science and businessmarket justifies the closer ties of science and business  This relationship has been beneficial to society and hasThis relationship has been beneficial to society and has contributed to the public goodcontributed to the public good
    13. 13. The Business of Science Challenge:The Business of Science Challenge: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities  Questions for discussion:Questions for discussion:  Should private companies be permitted to use teminatorShould private companies be permitted to use teminator gene technology?gene technology?  Should farmers in developing countries pay lower priceShould farmers in developing countries pay lower price premiums for genetically-modified seed?premiums for genetically-modified seed?  Should farmers be held liable for genetic pollution? WhatShould farmers be held liable for genetic pollution? What is genetic pollution?is genetic pollution?  Has any scientific development not been corrupted by theHas any scientific development not been corrupted by the profit motive?profit motive?
    14. 14. The PolicyThe Policy ChallengeChallenge What public policies related to biotechnologyWhat public policies related to biotechnology should be adopted and who should decide?should be adopted and who should decide?
    15. 15. The Policy IssuesThe Policy Issues  What, if any, should be the role of scientistsWhat, if any, should be the role of scientists and the public in determining policies relatedand the public in determining policies related to biotechnology?to biotechnology?  Are the questions about the risks associatedAre the questions about the risks associated with biotechnology too technical and complexwith biotechnology too technical and complex for citizens to evaluate?for citizens to evaluate?
    16. 16. The Policy Issues - Classroom ActivitiesThe Policy Issues - Classroom Activities  A public hearing before Congress on a proposal toA public hearing before Congress on a proposal to limit public funding of research on agriculturallimit public funding of research on agricultural biotechnology and to prohibit field testing ofbiotechnology and to prohibit field testing of biotechnology productsbiotechnology products  Students assume the following roles:Students assume the following roles:  Congressional representativesCongressional representatives  Opponents (who would oppose such a proposal and why?)Opponents (who would oppose such a proposal and why?)  Proponents (who would support such a proposal and why?)Proponents (who would support such a proposal and why?)  The pressThe press
    17. 17. The Policy Issues - Classroom ActivitiesThe Policy Issues - Classroom Activities  Students research the arguments that would beStudents research the arguments that would be presented by those in their role and prepare apresented by those in their role and prepare a summary of these positionssummary of these positions  Students develop two questions that might beStudents develop two questions that might be asked by someone in their role as to why thisasked by someone in their role as to why this proposal should or should not be enactedproposal should or should not be enacted  Conduct the public hearingConduct the public hearing  Students evaluate the arguments presented andStudents evaluate the arguments presented and make a recommendation to Congress in amake a recommendation to Congress in a summary white papersummary white paper
    18. 18. TheThe GlobalizationGlobalization ChallengeChallenge Is biotechnology part of the solution?Is biotechnology part of the solution? Or symptomatic of the problem?Or symptomatic of the problem?
    19. 19. How widespread are GM plantingsHow widespread are GM plantings in the US?in the US? 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 0 20 40 60 80 Percent of Acres Harvested Corn Soybeans Cotton
    20. 20. How widespread are GM plantingsHow widespread are GM plantings in the world?in the world? 36% 16% 11% 7% Soybeans Cotton Canola Corn percent of planted acreage 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50%
    21. 21. Globalization and Biotechnology:Globalization and Biotechnology: The HopesThe Hopes  Improved resistance to drought and salt stress,Improved resistance to drought and salt stress, toxic heavy metals, pests and diseasestoxic heavy metals, pests and diseases  Higher yields &/or reduced input useHigher yields &/or reduced input use  Enhanced environmental protectionEnhanced environmental protection  Increase food productionIncrease food production  Reduce post-harvest lossesReduce post-harvest losses  Micronutrients / Edible VaccinesMicronutrients / Edible Vaccines  Increased farm profitabilityIncreased farm profitability  Greater access to export marketsGreater access to export markets
    22. 22. Globalization and Biotechnology:Globalization and Biotechnology: The ConcernsThe Concerns  Lack of appropriate GM crops / cash crops onlyLack of appropriate GM crops / cash crops only  Loss of export marketsLoss of export markets  Endangers indigenous crops / loss of biodiversityEndangers indigenous crops / loss of biodiversity  Creation of superweedsCreation of superweeds  Higher seed costs / licensing agreementsHigher seed costs / licensing agreements  Fear of “terminator” gene technologyFear of “terminator” gene technology  Low input use already in placeLow input use already in place  Gains to wealthy landowners and multinationalsGains to wealthy landowners and multinationals  Genomic databases and research are neededGenomic databases and research are needed  Consumer concernsConsumer concerns
    23. 23. Globalization and Biotechnology:Globalization and Biotechnology: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities Case Studies: SuperSpud: World Hunger Case Study Native American Culture and Whaling Bangladesh Farm Decision Project Food Aid to Africa
    24. 24. Case Study: Food Aid to AfricaCase Study: Food Aid to Africa  You are an advisor to a leader of a developing nationYou are an advisor to a leader of a developing nation experiencing famine. The U.S. has donated surplus cornexperiencing famine. The U.S. has donated surplus corn to your country, but it is genetically modified corn.to your country, but it is genetically modified corn.  ““Green” groups are warning you that the corn isGreen” groups are warning you that the corn is dangerous to human health.dangerous to human health.  Others fear that farmers might plant some of these seeds,Others fear that farmers might plant some of these seeds, cross-pollinating with native corn, endangering importantcross-pollinating with native corn, endangering important export markets and revenueexport markets and revenue  But, if you don’t accept the surplus corn, many people inBut, if you don’t accept the surplus corn, many people in your country will die right now from the famine.your country will die right now from the famine.  What do you recommend and why?What do you recommend and why?
    25. 25. The Challenge ofThe Challenge of Consumer ChoiceConsumer Choice Does society have an ethical obligation toDoes society have an ethical obligation to maximize consumer knowledge andmaximize consumer knowledge and choice?choice?
    26. 26. Consumer Choice –Consumer Choice – The Issue of LabelingThe Issue of Labeling  Advocates of consumer labeling criticize effortsAdvocates of consumer labeling criticize efforts NOT to label food containing genetically modifiedNOT to label food containing genetically modified organisms. They argue: “If biotech foods are safeorganisms. They argue: “If biotech foods are safe and risk free, then why are you afraid to let usand risk free, then why are you afraid to let us know what we are buying?”know what we are buying?”  Consumers with food allergies, vegetarians, andConsumers with food allergies, vegetarians, and those with religious dietary restrictions have a rightthose with religious dietary restrictions have a right to knowto know  Consumers should be able to choose the type andConsumers should be able to choose the type and quality of food they consume, and the productionquality of food they consume, and the production system they want to support with their food dollarsystem they want to support with their food dollar
    27. 27. Consumer Choice –Consumer Choice – Opposition to LabelingOpposition to Labeling  Labeling is unnecessary because biotech foods containLabeling is unnecessary because biotech foods contain genetic material from other natural products - nothing is addedgenetic material from other natural products - nothing is added that does not already exist in naturethat does not already exist in nature  Federal organic labeling standards exist. If you are opposed toFederal organic labeling standards exist. If you are opposed to consuming genetically modified food ingredients, simply buyconsuming genetically modified food ingredients, simply buy organic!organic!  Labeling does not change consumer behaviorLabeling does not change consumer behavior  Why must everyone pay for the cost of labeling that isWhy must everyone pay for the cost of labeling that is demanded by a few?demanded by a few?
    28. 28. The Challenge of Consumer Choice:The Challenge of Consumer Choice: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities  Conduct a taste test comparing genetically modified soybeans and conventionally bred soybeans. Tabulate and graph the results.  Classroom debate: Resolved that Congress should adopt legislation mandating the labeling of all consumer products that contain any trace amount of genetically modified components.
    29. 29. The Challenge of Consumer Choice:The Challenge of Consumer Choice: Classroom ActivitiesClassroom Activities  A student survey gauging consumer attitudes towards genetically modified foods. See www.pollingreport.com ,www.pollingreport.com , www.nal.usda.gov/fnic, or www.nationalcenter.org for exampleswww.nal.usda.gov/fnic, or www.nationalcenter.org for examples of surveysof surveys  Students develop and administer their own survey (5-7 questions) to 5Students develop and administer their own survey (5-7 questions) to 5 persons each.persons each.  Students compile the answers and calculate percent distributions,Students compile the answers and calculate percent distributions, mean, median, and modemean, median, and mode  Students compare their answers to those in national or internationalStudents compare their answers to those in national or international surveys and discuss the ways in which who was asked questions andsurveys and discuss the ways in which who was asked questions and how a question was asked may influence the answershow a question was asked may influence the answers  Some students illustrate the responses using two different types ofSome students illustrate the responses using two different types of graphicsgraphics  Other students prepare a written report on the resultsOther students prepare a written report on the results
    30. 30. Key Challenges of Agricultural BiotechnologyKey Challenges of Agricultural Biotechnology  Can we capture the potential benefits ofCan we capture the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology in a fair and equitableagricultural biotechnology in a fair and equitable way for today’s and future generations?way for today’s and future generations?  Can we balance the interests of human societyCan we balance the interests of human society and the environment using biotechnology?and the environment using biotechnology?  Can biotechnology contribute to sustainableCan biotechnology contribute to sustainable agricultural systems?agricultural systems?  How should we frame the biotechnology issue?How should we frame the biotechnology issue?

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