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Expert and Public Perception of Risk from Biotechnology


* Address correspondence to Lucia Savadori, Dipartimento di Scienze della Cognizione e della Formazione, University of Trento, Italy;


Risk perceptions of a series of biotechnology applications were examined in a public (nonexpert) sample and an expert sample. Compared with the experts, the public perceived all biotechnology applications as more risky. Both groups perceived food-related applications to be riskier than medical applications. Compared with the public, experts perceived both food and medical applications as less harmful and more useful. Experts also judged the risks posed from medical biotechnology applications as more familiar and acknowledged by people and science. Lay estimates of the risk of food applications were predicted by potential harm, potential benefits, science knowledge, and familiarity; experts' estimates were predicted only by harm and benefits. Lay estimates of the risk of medical applications were predicted by potential harm; experts' estimates were predicted by potential benefits, number and type of people exposed, and science knowledge. We discuss the implications of the results for risk communication about and management of different types of biotechnologies.