As I stated (in different words) yesterday, prophylaxis is one of the unspoken goals for a lot of these public consultation/engagement/understanding science projects. The problem is that you have to figure out how a group is going to react so you can make predictions. The recent write up in Nature Nanotechnology (December 2008 online edition) featuring work from Dan M. Kahan, et al from the Cognition Project at Yale has a very interesting way of analyzing how people arrive at their opinions described in my posting here. These people suggest/predict that learning more about a science or a technology is not going to be helpful since opinions get fixed at an early stage and further intellectual input does not (according to their study) change things.
Presumably people would have behaved similarly (i.e. quickly establishing opinion after a minimum of input) on the introduction of electricity. There are a surprising number of similarities between the technology introductions of then (19th century) and now. If you want to look at some of the text from that period complete with dire predictions about messing with God’s work, there’s an excellent book written by Carolyn Marvin called ‘When Old Technologies were New’.
We are able to predict some things about people individually and in groups but we don’t have a very good record. If we could do it well, every movie would be a financial success, every song would be a hit, and no scientists would ever have the projects halted due to public outcry. More tomorrow.