Frankenfish or Fish to Feed the World? Scientism and Biotechnology Regulatory Policy

Academic Article


  • Scientism is an attempt to apply the methods and approach of the natural sciences to matters of human social and political concern. Scientism‐based discourse has been used to reframe the public debate about controversial science and technology into a risk assessment carried out by experts. The biotechnology industry has used a scientism‐based discourse to avoid regulation and labeling, claiming that the scientific makeup of their products is all that matters for governing regulatory policy, not their social, economic, or environmental impact. In this case study I examine the discourse used in support of and opposition to AquaAdvantage salmon, the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption. This case inspired an opposition coalition of consumer and environmental groups that led the FDA to organize a public meeting about its review of the fish. The analysis finds support for previous studies showing that regulatory debates over biotechnology in the United States are dominated by scientism, and that scientism generates public skepticism rather than confidence. In previous cases citizen groups were unable to challenge the authority of scientism‐based regulatory policy, but in this case the agency's decision not to require labeling was overruled by a congressional labeling mandate driven by citizen mobilization.
  • Authors


    Publication Date

  • December 2017
  • Has Subject Area

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 628
  • End Page

  • 663
  • Volume

  • 82
  • Issue

  • 4