The Diffusion of Genetic Technologies and Its Implications

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Title: The Diffusion of Genetic Technologies and Its Implications
Author: Heald, Lori
Advisors: Thomas J Hoban, Committee Chair
Abstract: The human gene enjoys considerable stature in American society, both in terms of potential health benefits and in terms of solving social problems. While respect for genetic research is obvious, Americans are still leery of some of the more controversial techniques. The purpose of this research is to assess the support for and diffusion of three genetic technologies: genetic testing, gene therapy and cloning. Utilizing diffusion theory, I test the impact of personal characteristics (gender, race, education levels, political philosophy and information resources) on support for the technologies. However, we do not form opinions or decide to support technologies devoid of the social world, so I add to the literature by including four social influences as well: knowledge and awareness levels, access to medical data, industry regulation and the social importance people place on genetics. Personal characteristics are important for different technologies, which supports past research. For instance, men are two to three times more likely than women to support cloning cells and cloning pets and people. Non-whites are more likely than whites to support gene therapy to enhance intelligence, attractiveness and athleticism, but less likely to support technologies that are health-oriented. People who use the Internet as an information source are more likely to support the technologies than those who do not use the Internet. Most of the social influences (knowledge and awareness levels, access to medical records, regulation of the industry and importance of genetic research) strongly impact support for the technologies. People who would prefer restricted access to their medical records are less likely to support the technologies than those who would allow more access. The more importance or value people place on genetic research for health, family planning, food purchases, and in business and governmental policy-making, the more likely they are to support the technologies. Genetic testing has diffused to the general public, but gene therapy and cloning are in the early stages and some of the more novel aspects may never diffuse.
Date: 2007-10-23
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Sociology

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