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Biomedical Literacy in the United States: Exploring the borderland between science and citizenship
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Biomedical Literacy in the United States: Exploring the borderland between science and citizenship In modern democratic societies, it is assumed that a substantial majority of citizens are capable of understanding the basic issues on the political agenda at any point in time. Mass political communications reflect this assumption and seek to play a major role in nurturing and sustaining citizen awareness, knowledge, and skills. Freedom of the press – one of the essential requirements for classification as a democratic government – rests on this premise. In recent decades, however, a number of important public policy issues have arisen that require some level of scientific or technical literacy to understand the arguments surrounding the issue. The continuing stem cell debate in the United States and several western European countries illustrates this problem. If a citizen does not understand that all living things are composed of cells and the role of stem cells in the development and functioning of life, he or she may have a difficult time making any sense of the arguments in favor of and opposed to the use of stem cells in biomedical research. During the last year, a portion of the political debate in the U.S. Senate, for example, has involved the need for embryonic stem cells versus adult stem cells, and this may become a central dividing line in the current policy debate. Many informed citizens and interest group leaders have only a minimal understanding of the relative advantages and disadvantages of embryonic versus adult stem cells. This tension between the threshold of scientific literacy needed to understand or follow a policy debate and the democratic assumptions of American society represents an important borderland. The process of political specialization is one response of the political system to bridge this border problem. Communication scholars, political scientists, biologists, interest group leaders, and office holders all need to understand the nature of this borderland condition and to explore its implications for communication

Authors: Miller, Jon. and Kimmel, Linda.
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Biomedical Literacy in the United States:
Exploring the borderland between science and citizenship
In modern democratic societies, it is assumed that a substantial majority of citizens are capable of
understanding the basic issues on the political agenda at any point in time. Mass political communications
reflect this assumption and seek to play a major role in nurturing and sustaining citizen awareness,
knowledge, and skills. Freedom of the press – one of the essential requirements for classification as a
democratic government – rests on this premise.
In recent decades, however, a number of important public policy issues have arisen that require
some level of scientific or technical literacy to understand the arguments surrounding the issue. The
continuing stem cell debate in the United States and several western European countries illustrates this
problem. If a citizen does not understand that all living things are composed of cells and the role of stem
cells in the development and functioning of life, he or she may have a difficult time making any sense of
the arguments in favor of and opposed to the use of stem cells in biomedical research. During the last
year, a portion of the political debate in the U.S. Senate, for example, has involved the need for
embryonic stem cells versus adult stem cells, and this may become a central dividing line in the current
policy debate. Many informed citizens and interest group leaders have only a minimal understanding of
the relative advantages and disadvantages of embryonic versus adult stem cells.
This tension between the threshold of scientific literacy needed to understand or follow a policy
debate and the democratic assumptions of American society represents an important borderland. The
process of political specialization is one response of the political system to bridge this border problem.
Communication scholars, political scientists, biologists, interest group leaders, and office holders all need
to understand the nature of this borderland condition and to explore its implications for communication


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