Nanotechnology: Public Highly Divided about Nanotech’s Benefits
Cultural values appear to have a big impact on how Americans view nanotechnology, according to the results of a study published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
In the study, Yale University (New Haven, CT) researchers polled 1500 Americans. One group, which received balanced information about nanotechnology’s risks and benefits, became highly divided about its safety, compared with another group that did not receive the information.
“People who had more individualistic, pro-commerce values tended to infer that nanotechnology is safe, while people who are more worried about economic inequality read the same information as implying that nanotechnology is likely to be dangerous,” says Dan Kahan, JD, the Elizabeth K. Dollard professor of law at Yale.
Kahan says the study’s results show the need for greater public education efforts.
“There is still plenty of time to develop risk-communication strategies that make it possible for persons of diverse values to understand the best evidence scientists develop on nanotechnology’s risks,” Kahan explains. “The only mistake would be to assume that such strategies aren’t necessary.”
“The message matters,” agrees David Rejeski, MPA, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington, DC). “How information about nanotechnology is presented to the vast majority of the public who still know little about it can either make or break this technology. Scientists, the government, and industry generally take a simplistic, ‘just-the-facts’ approach to communicating with the public about a new technology. But this research shows that diverse audiences and groups react to the same information very differently.”
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