How the Public Makes Sense of Nanotechnology

Dec 13, 2005
Nanotube

Ever since nanotechnology began attracting public attention, various experts have voiced concern that the public’s acceptance of nanotechnology will play an increasingly important role in determining the ultimate impact that nanotechnology has across society. As a result, U.S. government efforts aimed at promoting the development of nanotechnology have also included funds for studying environmental, health and safety issues relating to nanoscale materials. Two recent studies suggest it will be important to continue educating the public about these new technologies and their ultimate safety in order to develop support, but that more general personal beliefs, about which little can be done, will also play a role.

To better gauge the public’s knowledge about and attitudes toward nanotechnology, Dietram Scheufele, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Bruce Lewenstein, Ph.D., at Cornell University, conducted a national telephone survey of over 700 adults in the fall of 2004. The investigators asked a series of questions aimed at determining general attitudes toward nanotechnology, understanding of risk-benefit assessments, nanotechnology literacy, and how the public learns about nanotechnology. The survey also included questions designed to tease out the roles that education and personal beliefs play in forming attitudes toward nanotechnology.

The researchers found that most Americans today know little about nanotechnology, though what they do know they have learned through the mass media. They also found that most Americans have a positive attitude toward nanotechnology, largely, the researchers believe, because most media coverage to date has focused on the bright promise that nanotechnology has for society. Indeed, while only fewer than half of those polled knew the difference between a nanometer and an atom, well over half had an appreciation of the economic implications of nanotechnology.

One interesting finding from these studies was that negative feelings towards nanotechnology were stronger in women, older individuals, and among ethnic minorities. The investigators also found that past controversies in science and an individual’s positive or negative feelings about those areas of science – think genetic engineering and stem cell research - correlated strongly with how that person felt about nanotechnology. Public outreach efforts may therefore have to overcome previous failures in science communication.

This work appeared in two papers. The first is titled, “The public and nanotechnology: how citizens make sense of emerging technologies,” appeared in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research. An abstract is available at the journal’s website. View abstract.

The second paper, titled, “Public attitudes toward emerging technologies: examining the interactive effects of cognitions and affect on public attitudes toward nanotechnology,” has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming issue of the journal Science Communication. The journal’s webpage is available here.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Explore further: Research aims to improve rechargeable batteries by focusing on graphene oxide paper

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Five ways to fight online abuse with good manners

Oct 31, 2014

Online and social media's capacity to enable anyone to communicate their ideas and views is much celebrated. So why do so many people feel nervous about getting involved with online debate?

Public attitudes to nanotechnology: Lessons for regulators

Sep 21, 2009

New technologies may change our lives for the better, but sometimes they have risks. Communicating those benefits and risks to the public, and developing regulations to deal with them, can be difficult -- particularly if ...

Study Examines Public Attitudes On Nanotechnology

Aug 30, 2005

Scientists have a rare opportunity to define public discourse over nanotechnology, if they provide citizens with easily digestible information about the emerging technology, a University of Wisconsin-Madison journalism professor ...

Recommended for you

Gold nanorods target cancer cells

Dec 18, 2014

Using tiny gold nanorods, researchers at Swinburne University of Technology have demonstrated a potential breakthrough in cancer therapy.

Chemically driven micro- and nanomotors

Dec 17, 2014

At least since the movie "The Fantastic Voyage" in 1966, in which a submarine is shrunk down and injected into the blood stream of a human, people have been toying with the idea of sending tiny "micromachines" ...

User comments : 0

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.