Nanotechnology Survey: Scientists More Concerned Than Public

According to a Nov. 25 report in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the unknown human health and environmental impacts of nanotechnology are a bigger worry for scientists than for the public.

The new report was based on a national telephone survey of American households and a sampling of 363 leading U.S. nanotechnology scientists and engineers. It reveals that those with the most insight into the technology are unsure what health and environmental problems might be posed by the technology.

"Scientists aren't saying there are problems," said the study's lead author Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of life sciences communication and journalism. "They're saying 'We don't know. The research hasn't been done.'"

The survey organizers say these findings are in stark contrast to controversies sparked by the advent of technologies of the past, such as nuclear power and genetically modified foods, which scientists perceived as having lower risks than did the public.

At the root of the information disconnect, explains Scheufele, who conducted the survey with Elizabeth Corley at Arizona State University, is that nanotechnology is only now starting to emerge on the nation's policy agenda. "Nanotechnology is starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but with the public, it's not on their radar," he said. "That's where we have the largest communication gap."

Twenty percent of the scientists responding to the survey indicated a concern that new forms of nanotechnology pollution may emerge, while only 15 percent of the public thought that might be a problem. More than 30 percent of scientists expressed concern that human health may be at risk from the technology, while just 20 percent of the public held such fears.

In addition to Scheufele, authors of the report include Corley and David H. Guston of Arizona State University; and Sharon Dunwoody, Tsung-Jen Shih and Elliott Hillback of UW-Madison. For more information, visit www.nature.com/nnano/index.html.

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