STEPE

Sensitive Technologies and European Public Ethics

An EU-wide survey investigates issues such as trust, good governance and social values in relation to modern technologies.

The controversy over agricultural biotechnology showed that public attitudes play an important role when it comes to introducing the latest technologies. We could say that technologies that give rise to such debates are ‘sensitive’, pertinent concerns could be termed ‘public ethics’. STEPE, a collaboration of 13 research institutions, looks into those concerns.

Euro-barometer survey


A Euro-barometer survey among EU citizens in 27 EU countries and Turkey, which took place in February 2010, and expert interviews revealed insights into the public ethics on sensitive technologies. This series of surveys, which is carried out about every three years, investigates issues such as trust, good governance and social values in relation to modern technologies. ITA was involved in the phrasing of the questions, the interpretation of the results and the evaluation of the interviews.

The results: While entrenched views about controversial issues such as genetically modified foods were still evident, the crisis of confidence in technology and regulation that characterised the 1990s (ie BSE) was no longer dominant. Rather, the focus was on technologies themselves: Are they safe? Are they useful? And are there 'lite' alternatives with more acceptable ethical-moral implications? Europeans are also increasingly concerned about energy and sustainability. The participants did not reject innovation as such, under the condition that there need be an appropriate regulation to provide a balance to the market.

Citizens split on participation


In addition, many wished to be involved in decisions about new technologies when social values were at stake. In contrast to the survey results, stakeholders showed less enthusiasm for citizen participation as a governance tool. Even in Denmark, home of the ‘Danish model’ of participation, disillusionment had set in. Excessive demand of participation combined with growing disinterest as well as the lack of real connection to the political process appeared to be too big a problem.

Austrians rather sceptic towards new technologies


In the survey, Austria took in a particular position among comparable countries; as approval of new technologies was generally low except when it came to solar energy. Regarding agricultural biotechnology, Austria ranged in the lower middle field, as did the rest of the EU.

Publications

Publications

  • Gaskell, G., Allansdottir, A., Allum, N., Castro, P., Esmer, Y., Fischler, C., et al. (2011). The 2010 Eurobarometer on the life sciences. Nature Biotechnology, 29, 113-114.
  • Degelsegger, A., & Torgersen, H. (2011). Participatory paternalism – Citizens’ conferences in Austrian technology governance. Science And Public Policy, 391-402.
  • Degelsegger, A., & Torgersen, H. (2010). Instructions for being unhappy with PTA – The impact on PTA of Austrian technology policy experts´ conceptualisation of the public. doi:10.1553/ITA-ms-10-02
  • Gaskell, G., Stares, S., Allansdottir, A., Kronberger, N., Hampel, J., Mejlgaard, N., et al. (2010). Europeans and Biotechnology in 2010: Winds of Change? A report to the European Comission´s Directorate-General for Research on the Eurobarometer 73.1 on Biotechnology; FP7 project 'Sensitive Technologies and European Public Ethics' [STEPE] (p. 176). London. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_341_winds_en.pdf
  • Degelsegger, A., & Torgersen, H. (2009). Sensitive technologies in Austria - preliminary interview results (STEPE Workshop). Barcelona.
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Conference Papers/Speeches

Conference Papers/Speeches

  • 04/02/2012 , Rome
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Is synthetic biology new, and if so, why and for whom?
    Round Table on Responsible Research and Innovation and European Public Ethics
  • 08/09/2011 , Geneva
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Beyond risk governance – elite and lay perception of technology governance
    ESA 10th Conference 'Social Relations in Turbulent Times'
  • 25/08/2011 , Reykjavik
    Helge Torgersen: 
    Beyond risk governance – elite and lay perception of technology governance
    6th ECPR General Conference
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