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How UK psychiatric geneticists understand and talk about engaging the public

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The paper examines how leading UK psychiatric geneticists talk about public engagement. Scientific fields have distinctive publics, with specific goals for, concerns with, and obstacles to engagement. In psychiatric genetics these publics include people with psychiatric disorders, policy-makers, and even medics. We found that psychiatric geneticists justify public engagement by using the language of “stigma” in multiple ways. There is a belief in a deficit model of stigma that stigmatizing attitudes among the general public and government are the result of insufficient knowledge of the biological causes of psychiatric disorders. “Stigma” is, however, also co-opted to do rhetorical work within biomedicine, marking differences in therapeutic optimism as pathological. We suggest that the wider field of UK psychiatry is seen as mostly consisting of therapeutic pessimists, while the psychiatric geneticists are in a minority of therapeutic optimists. These attitudes are the product of the historical and social context of the field.
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Keywords: psychiatric genetics; public engagement; public understanding of science

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2015

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