Assumptions of the Deficit Model Type of Thinking: Ignorance, Attitudes, and Science Communication in the Debate on Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

  • Marko AhteensuuEmail author


This paper spells out and discusses four assumptions of the deficit model type of thinking. The assumptions are: First, the public is ignorant of science. Second, the public has negative attitudes towards (specific instances of) science and technology. Third, ignorance is at the root of these negative attitudes. Fourth, the public’s knowledge deficit can be remedied by one-way science communication from scientists to citizens. It is argued that there is nothing wrong with ignorance-based explanations per se. Ignorance accounts at least partially for many cases of opposition to specific instances of science and technology. Furthermore, more attention needs to be paid to the issue of relevance. In regard to the evaluation of a scientific experiment, a technology, or a product, the question is not only “who knows best?,” but also “what knowledge is relevant and to what extent?.” Examples are drawn primarily from the debate on genetic engineering in agriculture.


Deficit model Ignorance Attitudes Science communication Genetic engineering Nanotechnology 



This work has been financially supported by the Academy of Finland. During working on this paper I have greatly benefited from discussions with and specific suggestions made by Helena Siipi. I want to thank Rebecca Whitlock, attendees who commented on my presentation at the WCB2010 in Singapore, and participants of the PCRC and TMSC weekly seminars at the University of Turku, Finland, for useful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Three anonymous reviewers of Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics made helpful points and suggestions. Remaining errors are mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Turku, Public Choice Research Centre (PCRC)TurkuFinland

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