Journal Article Engaging scientists: An online survey exploring the experience of innovative biotechnological approaches to controlling vector-borne diseases

Boëte, Christophe  ,  Beisel, Uli  ,  Reis Castro, Luísa  ,  Césard, Nicolas  ,  Reeves, R. Guy

82015-08-10 , BioMed Central Ltd.
Background: Pioneering technologies (e.g., nanotechnology, synthetic biology or climate engineering) are often associated with potential new risks and uncertainties that can become sources of controversy. The communication of information during their development and open exchanges between stakeholders is generally considered a key issue in their acceptance. While the attitudes of the public to novel technologies have been widely considered there has been relatively little investigation of the perceptions and awareness of scientists working on human or animal diseases transmitted by arthropods. Methods: Consequently, we conducted a global survey on 1889 scientists working on aspects of vector-borne diseases, exploring, under the light of a variety of demographic and professional factors, their knowledge and awareness of an emerging biotechnology that has the potential to revolutionize the control of pest insect populations. Results: Despite extensive media coverage of key developments (including releases of manipulated mosquitoes into human communities) this has in only one instance resulted in scientist awareness exceeding 50 % on a national or regional scale. We document that awareness of pioneering releases significantly relied on private communication sources that were not equally accessible to scientists from countries with endemic vector-borne diseases (dengue and malaria). In addition, we provide quantitative analysis of the perceptions and knowledge of specific biotechnological approaches to controlling vector-borne disease, which are likely to impact the way in which scientists around the world engage in the debate about their value. Conclusions: Our results indicate that there is scope to strengthen already effective methods of communication, in addition to a strong demand by scientists (expressed by 79.9 % of respondents) to develop new, creative modes of public engagement.

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