Perception of the Estonian Genome Project: Perceived Risks and Benefits among the Estonian Population
Institute of Journalism and Communications University of Tartu Tartu, Estonia
The paper discusses one specific phenomenon in the emerging risk society: the launch of major scientific-technological ventures, involving large amounts of highly sensitive personal information. The focus is on a specific case study, the launch of the Estonian Genome Project, a population-based biobank. Drawing on both quantitative surveys and focus-group interviews, public perception of what could be the consequences of getting access to one's own genetic information (the main recruitment bait of the EGP being "a personal gene card") and how the introduction of large volumes of genetic knowledge into the society could change personal and social relations. The launch of the project took place in a situation where EGP constitutes the first major "gene-issue" in the society which largely missed out on other major gene debates, or the risks related to new technologies more generally. Estonian society seems to be a particularly fertile ground for experimenting with such ventures: the empirical analyses reveal a low level of concern for possible technologically induced risks among the population, in comparison to other types of risks, as well a notably high level of technological optimism, amidst uncritical promotion of IT and gene technology, both in political and media discourse as keys to country's economic and international success.