Some people say that genetic testing may cause trouble. Others think it
is a wonderful medical advance. Based on what you know, do you think
genetic testing will do more harm than good or more good than harm? [my emphasis]
The major finding: by far the strongest correlation is with attitude towards the Bible (those who regard it as the Word of God are more skeptical of testing), with position on the political spectrum taking second place (with conservatives being more skeptical than liberals or moderates). That’s not a shock, but I am surprised by how weak the correlation is between response and both socioeconomic status and education level – in both cases there’s a trend towards more positive responses at the higher end of the spectrum, but it’s either marginal or not statistically significant.
The reason I’m surprised is that I would expect attitudes towards testing to be influenced considerably by levels of knowledge about genetics (with more informed people, in general, being more favourable towards testing; this has certainly been the trend in previous surveys I’ve seen).
While the trends certainly point in that direction both educational level and SES are only weak proxies for genetic knowledge – and fortunately the GSS also included a question (GENETST1) that provides a more direct estimate of genetic literacy:
1564b. How much would you say you have heard or read about genetic testing?
Responses could be “A great deal”, “Not very much”, or “Nothing at all”.
I used the SDA interface to look at the relationship between the response to this question and the “good vs harm” question above. Here’s the graph:
For each bar, the area in red indicates those who were favourably inclined towards genetic testing (i.e. believed that testing will do more good than harm), while the blue area indicates those who were skeptical about the benefits of testing. In total 2,460 people answered both questions.
The result is a visually obvious and highly statistically significant trend (P < 10-9, Chi-squared test): the less familiar you are with genetic testing, the more likely you are to see it as harmful overall. Among the 483 individuals who rated themselves as knowing “a great deal” about genetic testing 80% had favourable views; among those who said they knew “nothing at all” that figure dropped down to 57%.
In other words, fear of genetic testing is strongly correlated with self-reported ignorance.