Biotechnology and young citizens: Biocult in New Zealand and Japan

- Darryl Macer, Hiroko Obata (Macer@biol.tsukuba.ac.jp)
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City 305, JAPAN

- Mairi Levitt (m.a.levitt@uclan.ac.uk)
Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE, UK

- Howard Bezar (BezarH@Lincoln.cri.nz)
Crop and Food Research, Private Bag 4704, Christchurch, New Zealand

- Ken Daniels (k.daniels@sowk.canterbury.ac.nz)
Dept. of Social Work, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 111-4.


Biocult was the name given to a survey given to young persons between 11-18 years old in Finland, Germany, Spain and the UK in 1996 by researchers coordinated by Mairi Levitt and Ruth Chadwick in the Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire, UK (Biocult, 1996). The questions were developed after considering previous studies looking at perceptions of biotechnology and nature. In all countries the questionnaires were given without prior discussion and with the emphasis that there were not particular right and wrong answers, rather we wanted to know what the students thought. The emphasis was on attitudes rather than knowledge of biotechnology.

This paper focuses on the results in Japan and New Zealand. A more detailed analysis will be made considering the results in all countries later. The full survey can be obtained for those who would like to conduct the survey in their own countries for comparisons. The total sizes were: Britain 238, Finland 130, Germany 86, Japan 395, New Zealand 287, and Spain 200. In Japan the study was conducted by Hiroko Obata and Darryl Macer, and in New Zealand in addition with Ken Daniels and Howard Bezar who contacted local teachers and schools. The sampling was conducted between October, 1996 to January, 1997. All the data was input in Japan, with the open comments being assigned to categories in a similar way to that described in Macer (1994). The New Zealand data categories were checked for consistency in the UK by Mairi Levitt in order to allow comparisons with European data.

Student Characteristics

Schools were chosen as a pilot study to cover a range of education abilities and social classes, and rural and urban environments. Because the teachers requested the surveys within class, the response rates within each class were almost total. However, not all schools or teachers that were approached permitted the survey to be conducted, especially in Japan, like Germany.

Three main age groups were selected to represent the ages when children left different stages of schooling, as chosen in Europe, 11-12, 14-15, and 17-18 year olds. The number of students within each age group in New Zealand was: 11-12 (N=74, 25%), 14-15 (N=100, 34%), 17-18 (N=55, 19%), with 50 13 year olds and 11 16 year olds; and in Japan: 11-12 (N=100, 26%), 14-15 (N=115, 30%), 17-18 (N=150, 39%), with 25 16 year olds. The sex ratios were generally even, except that more female students were included in the 17-18 year old samples in both countries. The proportion of females in each sample were: Total NZ 52%, J 63%; 11-12 NZ 49%, J 50%; 14-15 NZ 59%, J 56%; 17-18 NZ 63%, J 79%.

The students were asked an open question, "What would you like to do when you finish at your present school/college?". In both countries two thirds indicated further or higher education. The top four choices of future job direction in NZ for males were: Science/technology, Profession, Arts, Adventure/ travel; and for females: Social/caring, Arts, Science, Adventure; and in Japan for males, Adventure, Science, Profession, Arts; and for females, Social, Arts, Adventure, Science. The same sex trends were observed in the four European countries for girls to chose arts or social occupation. Japanese males were the only country where science/technology was not the premier choice. Only 4% in NZ and none in Japan cited environment/agriculture as a future; and 5% in NZ and 1% in Japan cited working with animals. However 52% in Japan and 20% in New Zealand did not answer this question of future plans.

Concerns

The students were asked, "Q. What sorts of things are you concerned about or worry about at the moment? Write them down in the "thinking" bubbles below" (3 bubbles given). It was an open question, like most of the survey. The concerns were categorized into the 34 categories, which were then grouped into the following 7 broad categories: own, family, out (outside of them, including:), environment, social, animal and biotechnology among the different age groups (Table 1).

Comparisons to Europe are also made (Table 2). There was a major difference between NZ out (54%) and J out (18%), reflected also in social, environment, animal and biotechnology concerns. More Japan students expressed a concern about themselves, except for the 11-12 year olds which was the result of opinions at one school which may have had a more direct environmental education. Further analysis will be made. Generally, in Europe more students expressed concerns outside of themselves.

Table 1: Concerns that students expressed
%Total 11-1214-15 17-18
New Zealand
Own64.7 58.162.0 62.5
Family4.2 012.0 1.8
Out54 55.459.8 51.8
environment 40.541.9 42.441.1
social36.0 43.440.2 30.4
animal9.3 12.213.0 7.1
biotechnology 1.70 06.9
Japan
Own63.8 2981.7 68
Family2.8 21.7 4
Out29.7 5913.9 26
environment 23.156 8.715.3
social10.3 77 16
animal.3 10 0
biotechnology 00 00

Table 2: Concerns that students expressed in the six countries (%)
Type NZ Japan UK Finland Germany Spain
own 65 64 63 44 66 55
family 4 3 13 7 4 19
out 54 30 67 81 84 79
environment 41 23 52 57 58 57
social 36 10 33 66 52 61
animal 9 0.3 21 7 0 7
biotechnology 2 0 5 2 4 2

Views of science and technology

There was an open question on the advantages and disadvantages of science, "Q. Human beings can use science and technology to do what they want. Do you agree or disagree?". There were not major differences between age groups in this question. The total who agreed were NZ 42%, J 37% (compare Britain 38%, Finland 21%, Germany 4%, Spain 24%); and those who disagreed, NZ 66%, J 54% (compare Britain 62%, Finland 79%, Germany 96%, Spain 76%). In the European surveys 11% answered both bubbles, 10% in NZ but only 3% in Japan.

The major reasons for agreement were categorized as: Science makes the world a better place (14% in NZ, 1.4% in Japan); We must find new knowledge (13% in NZ, 26% in Japan); Science is all powerful (5% in NZ, 5% in Japan). The major reasons for disagreement were: Cruelty or ethics (NZ 11%, Japan 38%; compare to: UK 23%, Finland 37%, Germany 46%, Spain 47%), Exploitation/misuse (9% in NZ, 15% in Japan), Science is not all powerful (11% in NZ, 8% in Japan), More harm/unforeseen consequences (NZ 13%, Japan 4%; Compare to: UK 20%, Finland 40%, Germany 57%, Spain 26%).

Trust in groups

The opinions that we have and develop about biotechnology are related to the information we receive and from whom it comes. A list of the sort of people and groups who might talk about biotechnology was given, Q. would you tend to trust what they say? Circle a number to show how much trust you would have in what they say: 1 is the lowest (you would not trust what they say at all); 5 is the highest (you would trust them a lot). The results are in Table 3, and show there is great distrust of politicians, and varied trust in other persons.

Students in NZ were more trusting on the scale than in Japan, as were the public and medical students in the 1993 International Bioethics Survey (Macer, 1994). In NZ, scientists, doctors were trusted significantly more than other groups. In Japan doctors are trusted less, and the result shows that this distrust extends to 11-12 year olds. Politicians, journalists, companies were least trusted in both countries. Priests were not trusted in Japan. Books were of intermediate trust in both. Teachers and environmental groups were trusted relatively more in Japan, whereas they were intermediate in NZ.

Table 3: Trust in sources of information about biotechnology in New Zealand and Japan (%) 1 = no trust; 5 = a lot of trust
%
NZ Total
J Total
NZ 11-12
J 11-12
NZ 14-15
J 14-15
NZ 17-18
J 17-18
Teacher5.1 5.38.2 76.1 4.41.8 5.7
212.0 14.213.7 1211.2 11.310.7 17.1
336.2 39.538.4 3334.7 33.037.5 46.4
435.5 28.228.8 3038.8 33.935.7 22.9
511.2 12.910.9 189.2 17.414.3 7.9
Doctor2.4 5.54.2 121.0 4.43.6 2.9
27.9 8.711.3 138.2 7.07.1 5.7
320.6 36.821.1 3916.3 31.328.6 41.4
439.5 35.329.6 2544.9 36.537.5 38.6
529.6 13.733.8 1129.6 20.923.2 11.4
Scientist 4.54.7 1.46 5.14.4 3.62.9
28.6 18.46.9 166.1 17.48.9 5.7
320.6 33.222.2 1915.3 38.323.2 41.4
432.3 26.823.6 2939.8 27.839.3 38.6
534.0 16.845.8 3033.7 12.225.0 11.4
Env. group 6.95.5 4.19.1 10.26.1 3.63.6
216.5 13.511.0 14.117.4 13.023.6 14.3
334.0 34.330.1 25.331.6 31.338.2 44.3
429.6 29.628.8 30.331.6 35.732.7 25.0
513.1 17.226.0 21.29.2 13.91.8 12.9
Politician 56.256.7 47.250 60.859.1 53.658.2
230.3 29.941.7 2625.8 29.633.9 33.3
311.7 10.28.3 1712.4 10.410.7 6.4
41.4 1.81.4 41.0 0.91.8 1.4
50.3 1.31.4 30 00 0.7
Journalist 30.315.8 17.414.1 39.816.5 36.415.6
235.5 33.933.3 31.335.7 31.340.0 39.0
325.8 35.334.8 37.419.4 38.320.0 31.2
47.7 11.613.0 11.15.1 11.33.6 12.8
50.7 3.41.5 6.10 2.60 1.4
TV news20.1 14.716.4 1822.5 16.725.0 12.8
231.4 24.530.2 2234.7 28.126.8 23.4
330.7 40.330.2 3828.6 30.737.5 47.5
412.0 15.516.4 199.2 14.010.7 14.2
55.8 56.9 35.1 10.50 2.1
Company29.1 26.528.6 30.630.5 26.328.6 24.8
229.1 36.825.7 32.730.5 46.535.7 31.9
331.9 29.132.9 25.531.6 20.221.4 38.3
48.4 6.110.0 7.16.3 6.114.3 4.3
51.4 1.62.9 4.11.1 0.90 0.7
Priest29.7 45.929.0 3932.7 57.427.3 24.8
217.1 26.815.9 2715.3 27.021.8 31.9
324.8 18.427.5 2020.4 10.430.9 38.3
420.3 6.317.4 827.6 4.410.9 4.3
58.0 2.610.1 64.1 0.99.1 0.7
Books9.9 8.19.6 129.2 7.81.8 6.4
213.7 12.116.4 1117.4 11.310.7 12.8
333.5 39.927.4 3333.7 42.644.6 44.7
431.4 27.327.4 2931.6 24.435.7 26.2
511.6 12.619.2 158.2 13.97.1 9.9

Nature

There was a list of 12 words that could be used to describe nature, and students were asked to circle up to 6 words which they thought describe nature. There were some significant differences in word preferences as shown in Table 4. Next there was an open question (compare to the comments on images of Nature in Macer, 1994), asking students "Q. If something is described as "natural" what does that make you think about it? I think something natural is... " The comments were categorized into 10 categories and these are shown in Table 5.

There were some differences in the images expressed between countries. In the word response (Table 4), only 34% in Japan circled "to be cared for", and there were more students who circled unpredictable or uncontrollable and unexplainable compared to New Zealand, which was similar to Europe except for the lower number who said it was unexplainable. The results of the open question (Table 5) gave a contrasting result to the Concerns question seen in Table 1 and 2. We found 40% of Japanese students mentioned living things as an image, significantly more than the other countries. Japan had less comments like natural product. There was more variety between countries on this question than seen in the International Bioethics Survey, which could be related to the decision to use only one category per comment, whereas in that survey up to two were used and there was space for a much longer response.

Table 4: Words which describe nature
%
NZ
Japan
Europe
Fragile 70 79 71
Strong 33 41 35
To be cared for 87 34 88
To be used 20 15 28
Friendly 47 57 55
Hostile 18 11 13
Unpredictable 69 71 56
Predictable 8 7 13
Uncontrollable 43 68 44
Controllable 16 8 16
Unexplainable 28 49 41
Explainable 20 9 21

Sam and the fatfree gene

One of the basic questions of biotechnology is how far people support enhancement, for example in gene therapy (Macer et al. 1995). The techniques of genetics may be somewhat complicated, so the example of a pill was given, and this question was only given to 14 years and above classes. We should note that this example is being seen with the use of dieting pills. An extract from a newspaper on a fatfree gene that a person Sam takes as a daily dose, so that he can eat as much as he likes without getting fat is given. Sam's grandparents do not approve. Q. If you were Sam's friend what would you think? Maybe you would like to lose weight - would you want to have "fatfree"? The open comments were placed into categories as shown in Table 6.

The students who said Sam should take the gene were NZ 42%, J 36%, UK 45%, Finland 37%, Germany 35%, Spain 39%. The most popular advice were: It may have side effects (NZ 35%, J 43%, Europe 29%), and Natural ways to lose weight are better (NZ 26%, J 27%, 33%). More students in NZ said it was unnatural, 15% compared to 1.2% in Japan. In NZ 14% said it was a good idea compared to 1.5% in Japan, and 11% (NZ) and 8% (J) said it was their choice. Note that the %s are based on the number of students who answered with a comment to the question, and 4 students in NZ and 47 in Japan did not give one.

Astrid the pig with human heart

The prospect of xenotransplants has risen with the development of pigs with humanized hearts by genetic engineering. A report from the New Scientist was given, [Researchers have injected human genetic material into a pig embryo. The idea is that this will make pigs organs compatible with humans so that organs from these pigs can be used for transplant surgery], with a set of four comments people made, "That's disgusting; who would want a pig's heart!", "That's wonderful, it could save people's lives!", "How dare people use animals like that!", "This could be a real money-spinner!". Q. There are about 200 pigs like Astrid. Should this research go on? How can we decide? What do you think? Open question.

A four point scale from 0-3 for human-centred and for pig-centred comments was used. The results found more students in Japan did not mention the interests of the pig at all (NZ 40%, J 62%), whereas more students in NZ gave a comment not mentioning humans (NZ 39%, J 25%). The major reasons given were to save life (NZ 54%, J 40%, UK 52%, F 53%, G 47%, S 60%); Pigs have rights (NZ 53%, J 29%, UK 52%, F 38%, G 38%, S 47%); and disgust (NZ 5%, J 14%, UK 4%, F 14%, G 4%, S 6%).

Environmental uses for biotechnology

Another question was how students would apply their knowledge to cleaning up pollution, and whether they would follow a technological fix for solution. They were given...Q. Bacteria can clean up our environment! Here are some examples: "No need for chemicals - a natural virus with a scorpion gene kills the bugs on cabbages." "Genetically altered bacteria: clean up oil on beaches. Oil pollution spoils the beach for people and is dangerous to sea birds." "Making a meal of toxic waste!" Think of something that needs cleaning up in your local area or somewhere you have been. Write about it or draw it (explaining what it is). Would there be any way to solve the problem of this pollution without using bacteria to clean it up? Yes/No. What do you think would be the best thing to do about it? It was an open question.

Christchurch is on the sea side, but the number of students giving the beach (17%) was less than Japan (31%). River was popular in both countries (Japan 64%, NZ 28%). The major type was litter (Japan 25%, NZ 50%). The answers to the Yes/No question were No (NZ 16%, J 44%), but it was somewhat ambiguous as some student said the opposite reply in their comments from their selection. 26% used pictures in NZ and 16% in Japan. The best thing to do comments were open and categorized: 9% in NZ and 10% in J suggested using biotechnology (Europe 7.5%). 37% in Japan suggested public awareness, 10% in NZ (Europe 24%). 9% in NZ suggested restrictions or fines (which exist in Christchurch) while 1.3% did in Japan (Europe 10% but 23% in Germany). 26% in NZ and 29% in J said don't do it was best (21% Europe) but 32% said traditional solution in NZ while 13% said so in Japan (Europe 25%). The comments suggest most students were not simply adhering to a technological fix to the problem.

Improving vegetables/fruit

The final question given only to 11-12 year olds (instead of the Sam and fatfree question) was to ask them what their favourite fruit and vegetable was, and then to suggest ways it may be improved, and whether it would be useful. In NZ 56% draw a picture, in Japan 75%. The most popular fruits were watermelon (12% in NZ, 14% in Japan), apples (18% in NZ, 8% in Japan), orange (7% in NZ, 17% in Japan).

The most common reasons for the change were convenience (NZ 26%, J 28%, Europe 32%), better to eat (NZ 17%, J 45%, Europe 21%), economic (NZ 16%, J 17%, Europe - none in Britain or Germany, 17% in Spain, 4 children in Finland - overall 10%). Objections were suggested by some (No change: NZ 25%, J 17%, Europe 15% (especially high in Germany)); Dangerous: NZ 3%, J 2%, Europe 4%). The pictures and open comments will be reported elsewhere. They were quite imaginative, and followed the symbol of the Biocult survey, which was a square tomato which had been made that shape for better packaging.

Conclusion

This survey shows that young people can express diverse comments about biotechnology, science and technology, and often expressed both benefits and risks in response to different questions, although the response to the science and technology question was not as mixed as observed in public questionnaires on specific applications (e.g. Macer 1994). The Biocult survey in Europe has used a division into self-centered, nature-centred and human-centred responses, and this is being done for the Japanese and New Zealand samples.

The survey results also show that caution must be used in extending the results of surveys, for example, Japanese students did not express many concerns about the environment or about animals however they gave many comments about living things in the nature questions. How we interpret these types of answers needs to be examined with more detailed analysis of the comments.

Despite the general disagreement that we could do anything with science and technology, about 40% said that Sam should take fatfree, suggesting a positive image of biotechnological solutions. This figure is higher than the acceptance of gene therapy to enhance physical characteristics in the medical student and public surveys conducted in 1993 (Macer, 1994; Macer et al. 1995). We have to look at the comments in more detail to examine how students think. Also we need to know the influence of teachers upon the attitudes (Macer et al. 1996), which is somewhat unknown in this survey, and a strong teacher could have influenced the students. Inter-school comparisons are also being made.

Table 5: Images of the word natural in the six countries (%)
Category NZ J UK Finland Germany Spain
Untouched 41 25 57 17 49 28
Nature as force 19 19 29 50 40 28
Pure 19 4 14 20 5 9
Natural product 38 7 18 20 15 28
Living things 9 40 8* 7* 19* 18*
Physical object* 1 19 - - - -
Something to be valued 2 3 8 <1 4 15
Wonderful 4 2 4 0 3 10
For us to use 3 2 <1 11 3 2
God 0.3 0 <1 0 0 2

*Physical object- was not coded separately from living things in Europe - so only 12% for both categories in Europe - significantly different from Japan.

Table 6: Advice that students gave to Sam about taking the fatfree pill
%Category
NZ - Total
J - Total
NZ 14-15
J 14-15
NZ 17-18
J 17-18
1unnatural 14.81.2 10.01.0 18.51.0
2side effects 35.042.7 37.542.6 37.037.7
3body sacred 2.00.4 2.50 1.90
4natural better 26.227.0 26.328.7 27.728.3
5sterotype 11.42.9 13.71.9 11.12.8
6psychological 5.40.8 5.00 7.41.0
7reduces will 5.45.8 3.87.4 7.40
8ridiculous 2.01.2 2.52.8 1.90
9good idea 14.11.5 13.713.9 11.117.9
10don't need it 3.417.8 1.321.3 7.416.0
11need tests of safety 9.411.2 6.38.3 14.913.2
12weight is impt 2.61.7 2.51.9 01.0
13save lives 4.70.4 00 11.11.0
14Third World 3.40.8 2.51.9 3.70
15their choice 10.77.9 11.39.3 7.45.7
16natural method vs. gene 2.64.1 1.32.8 3.76.6
17Don't know 0.79.5 1.35.6 011.3

Acknowledgments

We especially thank the teachers who helped, Mr. Brian Baker, Mr. Lyndsay Conner, Mr. Kevin Ford, Ms. Ann Greenaway, Mr. Malcolm Long, Mr. Fraser Smail, and Ms. Mandy Yogi in New Zealand; Mr. Norimitsu Akamatsu, Mr. Kouichi Honda, Mr. Hiroaki Koizumi, Mr. Tomoyasu Kokufuta, Mr. Shunji Miura, Mr. Masafumi Tanaka, Mr. Shouzou Tsukamoto and Mr. Shigenori Yamagata. Schools included: Cashmere High School (68); Cathedral Grammar Primary (26); Lincoln High School (33); Lincoln Primary (56); Linwood High School (43); Papanui High School (32); St Josephs Primary (16); Springston Primary (23); Fujioka Primary (36); Fujioka Junior High School (31); Hyogo High School (38); Kojimachi High School (47); Matsumoto Junior High School (71); Souka High School (108); Takezono Nishi Primary (64).

References

Biocult (1996) Cultural and Social objections to biotechnology: Analysis of the arguments with particular reference to the views of young people. One year project funded under the European Union's Biotech programme.
Macer, D.R.J., Bioethics for the People by the People, (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1994).
Macer, D.R.J., et al. (1995), "International perceptions and approval of gene therapy", Human Gene Therapy 6: 791-803.
Macer, D.R.J., Asada, Y., Tsuzuki, M., Akiyama, S., & Macer, N.Y. Bioethics in high schools in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, (Christchurch: Eubios Ethics Institute, 1996).


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