People in the US and the UK show strong similarities in their attitudes toward nanotechnologies

December 9, 2008

The results of a new U.S.–U.K. study published in this week's journal Nature Nanotechnology show that ordinary people in both countries hold very positive views of nanotechnologies and what the future of these technologies might bring. Participants in both countries indicated a significantly higher comfort level with energy applications of nanotechnologies than with applications used in health treatments.

Nanotechnology –– the science and technology of exceptionally small materials and processes –– is among the latest new technologies to raise public concerns about health and environmental risks.

The article reports on the first study of its kind. It involved four workshops, held at the same time in Santa Barbara and Cardiff, Wales. Workshop participants deliberated about two broad types of nanotechnology applications –– energy and health.

The study was carried out in the United States by the NSF Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in the United Kingdom by a collaborating research team from the School of Psychology at Cardiff University.

Barbara Herr Harthorn, director of the UCSB Center, led the interdisciplinary, international research team. She noted that one of the unexpectedly strong findings of the study was that the type of nanotechnology mattered greatly to the participants. She said participants in both countries viewed energy applications of nanotechnology more positively than health technologies, in terms of risks and benefits.

"Much of the public perception research on nanotechnology in the U.S. and abroad has focused on a generic 'nanotechnology' risk object," said Harthorn. "This work moves to a higher level of specificity and in doing so finds striking differences in views of benefit depending on application context.

"More specifically, perceived urgency of need for new energy technologies is strongly associated with high perceived benefit and lower risk perception, regardless of what materials, processes, or environmental risks are associated," she said.

Nick Pidgeon, who led the research team at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, explained, "The Royal Society's 2004 report on nanotechnologies recommended public engagement and deliberation on nanotechnology risks and benefits. This study represents the first ever such public engagement exercise to be simultaneously conducted in two different countries."

The results include the following key findings:

-- Overall participants in both countries focused on the benefits rather than the risks of nanotechnologies, and also exhibited a high degree of optimism regarding the future contribution of new technologies to society. This pattern was very similar in the workshops in both the United States and Britain.

-- Some small cross-country differences were present. U.K. participants were generally more aware of recent technological controversies and risk governance failures (examples include genetically modified organisms, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and foot and mouth disease), leading some to voice specific concerns about future nanotechnology risks.

-- Greater differences were observed when participants (irrespective of their country) discussed the different applications. In particular, new technology developments for energy applications were seen as unproblematic, while questions of human health were felt to raise moral and ethical dilemmas. As was found by the U.K. Royal Society in 2004 for Britain, in the current study participants in both the U.K. and U.S. questioned whether those responsible (governments, industry, scientists) could be fully trusted to control nanotechnologies in the future.

Source: University of California - Santa Barbara

Explore further: Researchers provide experimental foundation for optical computing

Related Stories

Researcher uses microscale technology to isolate rare cells

June 17, 2015

In a blood sample taken from a cancer patient, there may be a single circulating tumor cell among hundreds of thousands of other cells. These tumor cells can provide valuable information about how cancer progresses, and could ...

Building a better course starts with the syllabus

March 17, 2015

Recent award-winning research from the University of Virginia's Teaching Resource Center shows that tailoring teaching to how students learn improves courses and creates long-lasting impact.

Turing also present at the nanoscale

February 5, 2015

In the world of single atoms and molecules governed by chaotic fluctuations, is the spontaneous formation of Turing patterns possible - the same ones that are responsible for the irregular yet periodic shapes of the stripes ...

A new step towards using graphene in electronic applications

January 14, 2015

A team of the University of Berkeley and the Centre for Materials Physics (CSIC-UPV/EHU) has managed, with atomic precision, to create nanostructures combining graphene ribbons of varying widths. The work is being published ...

Recommended for you

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base

September 2, 2015

Rice University scientists have theoretically determined that the properties of atom-thick sheets of boron depend on where those atoms land.

Electrical circuit made of gel can repair itself

August 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have fabricated a flexible electrical circuit that, when cut into two pieces, can repair itself and fully restore its original conductivity. The circuit is made of a new gel that possesses a combination ...

An engineered surface unsticks sticky water droplets

August 31, 2015

The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets ...

Scientists grow high-quality graphene from tea tree extract

August 21, 2015

(Phys.org)—Graphene has been grown from materials as diverse as plastic, cockroaches, Girl Scout cookies, and dog feces, and can theoretically be grown from any carbon source. However, scientists are still looking for a ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Holokinetic
3.5 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2008
It is interesting that these surveys do not reflect the intellectual vigilances portrayed in the ending chapters of Drexler's "Engines of Creation." Now that we know that the military industrial complexes of the Democracies are speeding headlong towards "sufficiently advanced" nanotech for military use, and that they have the most funding for these enterprises, and that their goals are hidden, and that we already know the risks, i.e. Grey Goo, why do these surveys not take it to the limit, and ask if people trust their military industrial complexes to achieve certain "inevitable" results ?

Why. Why cannot we speak directly to the risks of military applications of nanotechnology ? Perhaps if faced with the truely frightening applications and results of unbridled, misunderstood, and hidden advances of nanotech development, "lay" people would be able to make finer distinctions about the risks, and ask their governments the real question:

What is actually going on, and what is it that you hope to achieve ?

Until we face the music, and ask the scary questions, we'll all be surprised when someday a "sufficiently advanced" nanotechnology is used in a less than ethical manner.

Nature's nanotech continues to surprise us. Why should the nanotech of the military industrial complexes of the Democracies be any less surprising ?

Time is closing in on us. On the biosphere. Time to educate and collaborate. Time to wrest control of Pandora's box from those who refuse to disclose their intentions.

Past time.

Act now.

Be brave.

epitome808@gmail.com

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.