Tuesday, December 05, 2006

U.S. public opinion about nano still fairly neutral

CBC just reported on the latest public opinion poll on nanotechnology in the U.S. The phone survey was conducted by Zogby International for Steven C. Currall at the University College London, and Neal Lane at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy (Lane, of course, was also Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton administration) and focused on comparisons between nanotech and other emerging technologies, such as GMOs and nuclear power.

"[The study] examined how the public's perceptions of nanotechnology are being shaped by consumer trends and whether awareness will lead to increased support for research.

Currall and Lane conducted 503 interviews in the United States by randomly dialing telephone numbers from a list, and asking respondents about their perceptions of nanotechnology in the context of other technologies, such as nuclear power and genetic modification of organisms (GMO).

"Our results showed that nanotechnology was seen as relatively neutral; it was perceived as less risky and more beneficial than a number of other technologies, such as GMO, pesticides, chemical disinfectants and human genetic engineering," the study says.

However, the study also found that it was seen as "more risky and less beneficial " than solar power, vaccinations, hydroelectric power and computer display screens."

(Click here for the full CBC story.)

The study, which appears in the December issue of Nature Nanotechnology, is the latest iteration in a series of public opinion polls that have all found relatively low levels of awareness among the general public and no widespread concerns directly linked to nanotechnology. Unfortunately, the Currall/Lane study was in the field too early to tap into any impact that the recent EPA regulations of consumer products containing certain nano-sized silver particles may have had (see nanopublic posting from November, 23, 2006).

What is interesting, however, is Currall et al.'s conclusion that benefit perceptions provide important contingencies for opinion formation among the general public. This finding is not necessarily new, but it highlights once again the argument that the first highly visible applications on the consumer market will have a significant impact on people's willingness to live with certain risks and uncertainties.

(Click here for a copy of Steven Currall's presentation at today's web cast for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.)