Commentary on Komatsu and Macer

- Masahiro Morioka

CIAS, Osaka Prefecture University,

Gakuencho, Sakai, Osaka, 599-8531 Japan
International Network for Life Studies

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 10 (2000), 148.
Komatsu and Macer's survey gives us rich information on Japanese high school students' expectations and images of biotechnology. One of their interesting points is that students "who got information through mass media tended to feel "GM crops" are more risky for society than ones who got no information." The authors wrote, in addition, that the students who got information through the mass media had unrealistic images on biotechnology because they were brainwashed by popular TV and magazines. The authors concluded that "students who got information through only mass media would get fragmentary knowledge about "GM crops" and its information may increase their fear."

First of all, it would be fairer to say that its information may increase "both their fear and unrealistic expectations." Recent Japanese TV programs cover lots of science and technology issues, but most of them do not necessarily convey the exact information on the topics. They frequently exaggerate future promises, oversimplify the technological aspects, and misunderstand their ethical implications. As a result, we are apt to have a dark image of our future, or on the contrary, unrealistic dreams on the state-of-the-art technology. I have the impression that BBC, Discovery, and Japanese NHK Educational give us good information sometimes, but other TV programs, especially Japanese commercial broadcasting, for example, "Special Command Research 2000X" (Tokumei Risaachi 2000X) and others, are mostly sensational and occasionally disgusting. However, the latter's audience rating is high. Probably many young students see the latter programs instead of the former.

The problem is how they can get well-balanced and integrated information on advanced technology, including its ethical aspects. Can school education do it really? I suspect it because I know many schoolteachers themselves get information through mass media. Not only the teachers but also bioethics researchers get information through newspapers and popular magazines. Of course some researchers try to read the original papers and data, but they can not do it for every information they hear. We need some system to pool the integrated information and data on recent technologies and social issues arising from them.

As the authors say, mass media sometimes increases our fear against scientific technology. But, on the contrary, scientists sometimes scatter "safety myths" of scientific technology. For example, when a JAL jumbo-jet airplane crashed in 1985, specialists said such breakdown accidents of the whole hydraulic brake system were "unrealistic" and "impossible." Hence they did not have a manual for the accident like that. We need to see both sides of scientific technology. This is important when teaching science and technology, and its impact on our society. Teenagers tend to believe information and opinions their teachers give on the topic, because, for the most of them, it is their first opportunity to know it. Hence, teachers must have a knowledge on the success and limitation, or the light and shadow of contemporary scientific technologies.

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