Nanotechnology's future depends on who the public trusts

Feb 11, 2008

When the public considers competing arguments about a new technology’s potential risks and benefits, people will tend to agree with the expert whose values are closest to their own, no matter what position the expert takes. The same will hold true for nanotechnology, a key study has found.

The study results appear in a report issued today by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN). The study was based on experiments involving some 1,600 American adults and was carried out by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School — an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Yale University, the University of Washington, The George Washington University, Cornell University, and Decision Research in Eugene, Oregon.

As part of the study, participants read opposing arguments that were randomly attributed to fictional policy experts from major universities to form an opinion on nanotechnology — a cutting-edge technology about which little is known by the public.

“Because most people lack the time and expertise necessary to make sense of scientific information on complex and novel risks, they naturally rely on experts whom they trust to determine what information to believe. Individuals are inclined to trust those who share their cultural outlooks,” according to the study’s lead author Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan.

The new results are consistent with those from an earlier study — part of an ongoing series being sponsored by the National Science Foundation, PEN and the Oscar M. Ruebahausen Fund at Yale Law School — in which the same researchers found that individuals’ values influence how they respond to information about nanotechnology risks.

The findings reinforce the fact that the task of engaging the U.S. public about nanotechnology will not be simple or easy, PEN Director David Rejeski says.

“This study identifies some of the hurdles policy experts face in developing a comprehensive strategy for providing citizens with information about nanotechnology,” Rejeski says. “It highlights the urgency of talking with the public about nanotechnology now — at this relatively early stage in its commercialization. It also emphasizes the importance of getting information to people that they can trust and from sources they can rely on.”

In the third and final study in this series of experiments, expected to be completed in spring 2008, the Cultural Cognition Project will explore the persuasiveness of different messages coupled with a variety of trusted messengers on various audience groups.

Source: Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

Explore further: Gold nanorods target cancer cells

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nanoscale resistors for quantum devices

Dec 09, 2014

Researchers from the London Centre for Nanotechnology have made new compact, high-value resistors for nanoscale quantum circuits. The resistors could speed the development of quantum devices for computing ...

A gut reaction

Nov 19, 2014

Queen's University biologist Virginia Walker and Queen's SARC Awarded Postdoctoral Fellow Pranab Das have shown nanosilver, which is often added to water purification units, can upset your gut. The discovery ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

COCO
not rated yet Feb 12, 2008
Amerikans think 911 was done by energy weapons from space - good luck with reasoning here.
superhuman
not rated yet Feb 13, 2008
These results are rather obvious.

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.