Scientists predict ”culture war” over nanotechnology

December 8th, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 8 (ANI): Instead of thinking that nanotechnology is safe, a group of scientists have revealed that people who are aware of the novel science become sharply polarised along cultural lines.
The findings of the study conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School in collaboration with the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, have important implications for garnering support of the new technology.
The researchers conducted their study on a diverse sample of 1,500 Americans, the vast majority of whom were aloof to nanotechnology, a relatively new science that involves the manipulation of particles the size of atoms and that has numerous commercial applications.
After the participants were shown balanced information about the risks and benefits of nanotechnology, they became highly divided on its safety compared to a group not shown such information. Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor at Yale Law School and lead author of the study, said that the governing factor in how people responded was their cultural values.
“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,” Nature quoted Kahan as saying.
He added that such pattern is consistent with studies examining how people’’s cultural values influence their perceptions of environmental and technological risks generally.
“In sum, when they learned about a new technology, people formed reactions to it that matched their views of risks like climate change and nuclear waste disposal,” he said.
Also, the researchers found that people who have pro-commerce cultural values are more likely to know about nanotechnology than others.
“Not surprisingly, people who like technology and believe it isn”t bad for the environment tend to learn about new technologies before other people do. While various opinion polls suggest that familiarity with nanotechnology leads people to believe it is safe, they have been confusing cause with effect,” said Kahan.
And the researchers stressed that the findings of the experiment highlight the need for public education strategies that consider citizens” predispositions.
“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. The only mistake would be to assume that such strategies aren”t necessary,” added Kahan.
“The message matters. 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,” said David Rejeski, director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
The report is published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. (ANI)

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