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Keywords:

  • Trust gap;
  • biotechnology;
  • public opinion;
  • cultural differences;
  • science literacy

Using results from the 1999 Eurobarometer survey and a parallel telephone survey done in the United States in 2000, this study explored the relationship between levels of knowledge, educational levels, and degrees of encouragement for biotechnology development across a number of medical and agricultural applications. This cross-cultural exploration found only weak relationships among these variables, calling into question the common assumption that higher science literacy produces greater acceptance (whether or not mediated by lower perceived risk). The relationship between encouragement and trust in specific social institutions was also weak. However, regression analysis based on “trust gap” variables (defined as numerical differences between trust in specific pairs of actors) did predict national levels of encouragement for several applications, suggesting an opinion formation climate in which audiences are actively choosing among competing claims. Differences between European and U.S. reactions to biotechnology appear to be a result of different trust and especially “trust gap” patterns, rather than differences in knowledge or education.