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This is one of the conclusions extracted from the latest edition of Eurobarometer, a survey of European public opinions on life sciences and biotechnology, taken in February 2010. Over 26,000 citizens, hailing from 32 countries, were polled.

The study, recently published in Nature Biotechnology, was led by professor George Gaskell of the London School of Economics, and drew on more than fourteen European centers, including the Observatory of Scientific Communication of Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona.

The survey identified the cognitive sciences, information technology, and renewable energy as the areas of technology that are most widely accepted by society. Contrariwise, it revealed that nanotechnology, space exploration and nuclear energy hold the least public support. One possible explanation for the case of nanotechnology is that it remains vastly unknown: indeed, only 45% of those surveyed had ever heard of it. The primary objection to nanotechnology was safety concerns, combined with a perceived lack of benefits.

The 2010 Eurobarometer, the seventh edition since 1991, generally reflects a growing interest in technology among the public, as well as major concerns regarding the tradeoff between risks and benefits, a trend typically observed in each edition. Nevertheless, the latest edition underscores the predominant attitude among Europeans that development of any emerging technology must take into account public concerns, which currently encompass five core values: sustainability; benefits; appropriate regulation; safety; and a good balance between risks for some and benefits for others (which the authors called distributional fairness).

The researchers grouped European countries into five clusters according to their level of concern over each topic. Spain is part of a cluster that expressed moderate concerns over distributional fairness and for whom science ranks first among various factors considered, taking priority over ethical or moral issues. The other members of this cluster are Hungary, Italy, Lithuania and Romania. The areas related to biotechnology comprise nanotechnology; biofuels; synthetic biology; genetically modified (GM) foods; animal cloning for food production; regenerative medicine; and biobanks. Within Spain’s cluster, the most widely supported area was regenerative medicine, whereas the least well known include nanotechnology and biobanks.

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