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Decoding the genetics debate: hype and hope in Icelandic news media in 2000 and 2004

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The attraction of human genetics is rooted in optimistic projections of possible futures, where present-day problems are to be solved by technologies-to-come. But hyperbolic optimism with its consequent cycles of expectations, investment and disappointment is a threat to users, investors, and the ethical reputation of the biotechnology field. We report a study of the entire news coverage of genetics in Icelandic mass media in 2000 and 2004. All media promoted optimistic industry-based information largely without critical questions concerning scientific uncertainty, health benefits, or ethical challenges. Criticism and deliberation were thematically narrowed down, in 2000 to the issue of “presumed consent” for nationwide participation in a database proposed by the company Decode genetics, and in 2004 to topics concerning Decode's finances. In a discourse of monetary gain and loss, sustained exploration of scientific, moral and cultural issues has little appeal.
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Keywords: decode genetics; news media; technology optimism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Section for General Practice, Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Norway 2: Department of Philosophy, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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