Background: Research on attitudes toward genetics and medicine registers skepticism among minority communities, but the reasons for this skepticism are not well known. In the past, studies linked mistrust of the medical system to historical ethics violations involving minority groups and to suspicions about ideological premise and political intent.

Methods: To assess public knowledge, attitudes, and behavior regarding human-genetics research, we surveyed 858 Americans onsite in four community settings or online in a geographically nonspecific manner.

Results: Compared to participants as a whole, African Americans were significantly more likely to believe that clinical trials might be dangerous and that the federal government knowingly conducted unethical research, including studies in which risky vaccines were administered to prison populations. However, African Americans were also significantly more likely to believe that the federal government worked to prevent environmental exposure to toxicants harmful to people with genetic vulnerabilities.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that most Americans trust government to act ethically in sponsoring and conducting research, including genetics research, but that African Americans are particularly likely to see government as powerfully protective in some settings yet selectively disingenuous in others.

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Copyright © 2005 Association for Politics and the Life Sciences. This article first appeared in Politics and the Life Sciences 23:1 (2005), 60-66.

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