Friday, March 03, 2006

Nano backlash because of knowledge deficits?

The knowledge deficit model seems to be alive and well. UPenn's Daily Pennsylvanian reports today about public education efforts at Penn's Nano/Bio Interface Center:

"Engineering professor Dawn Bonnell, who is the director of Penn's NANO/BIO Interface Center, said that the Center fights myths by making clear definitions of nanotechnology.

Dispelling myths about the field, experts say, may stave off a backlash fueled by science fiction."

The idea behind the knowledge deficit model, of course, is that attitudes about scientific breakthroughs are to some degree shaped by what citizens know about these new technologies. And the more citizens know, the model assumes, the more likely they will be to support these new technologies.

The key problem: Empirical support for this model is mixed at best. In our most recent survey on nanotech, we found that the knowledge deficit model does not apply to nanotech at this point. Rather, audiences rely on a series of heuristics or cognitive shortcuts that are provided by mass media (see figure above). The way an issue is framed or the perceptual lenses that audiences use play much more of a role in shaping public attitudes, especially with a public that is largely uninformed about nanotech.