Monday, June 23, 2008

Why citing public opinion polls on stem cell research isn’t helpful

Because as Yuval Levin documents and explains in the New Atlantis: the public doesn’t know very much about stem cell research.
Easily the most unusual and outstanding characteristic of public views on the stem cell and embryo research issues is a self-reported lack of familiarity with the facts. In other arenas of policy and politics, even when people don’t know much about a prominent public subject they tend not to perceive or report their own ignorance. But asked, for instance, whether they were familiar with stem cell research, only 17% of the respondents said they were very familiar....

This relative absence of knowledge about even the most prominent of the embryo-research issues is made emphatically clearer in the responses to particular questions of fact. Asked, for instance, whether adult or embryonic stem cell research had yielded any therapeutic results, only 23% of respondents answered correctly that, to date, only adult stem cells have resulted in treatments for disease. More respondents wrongly believed that embryonic stem cells had already yielded therapies, and many wrongly believed that neither adult nor embryonic stem cells had done so.
32% of respondents thought that embryonic stem cells had treated patients and 17% thought that neither embryonic or adult stem cell were used for treatments while 32% weren’t sure.

In fact, professed familiarity with stem cell research in the prior question turned out to be a leading indicator of actual ignorance with respect to this question of therapeutic uses. Almost 40% of those who claimed some knowledge about the research in the earlier question believed, incorrectly, that embryonic stem cells had yielded therapeutic results, compared to only 23% of those who said they were unfamiliar with the research.

So while only 59% of respondents claimed to be either somewhat or very familiar with stem cell research, close to half of the 59% aren’t really that familiar.

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