Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nanotech news agenda pushed by interest groups and think tanks in the U.S., and by scientists and scientific associations in the U.K.

Sharon Friedman at Lehigh and her colleagues just released the latest iteration of their longitudinal analysis of media coverage of nanotechnology in the U.S. and U.K. Friedman presented their findings at a meeting last week, organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.

Among the key findings: Coverage of nano risks in 2006 was almost double of what we saw the year before. And almost 50% of all articles about risk regulations in the U.S. were based on calls for regulatory action by interest groups, non-profits, and think tanks. In the U.K., in contrast, a majority of the risk coverage originated from calls for action by industry, scientific associations or university scientists (see Figure 1).

Figure 1:

Friedman's findings also provide additional context for the recent piece my colleagues and I published in Nature Nanotechnology (see nanopublic post from November 25, 2007), comparing public perceptions and scientist attitudes on nano risks and benefits. While scientists were overall more optimistic about the potential benefits and less concerned about the risks that the general public, our national surveys also identified two areas where nano scientists currently see more risks than the general public: human health, and environmental pollution.

One possible correlate of the higher levels of concern among scientists about environmental and health risks, of course, is the disproportionate focus on these two areas in elite discourse. And Friedman's findings provide empirical evidence that this in in fact true. More than a third of all reasons provided in mainstream news coverage in support of increased regulatory oversight were to "protect the environment" and to "protect people's health and safety" (see Figure 2).

Figure 2:

If it is the scientific consensus that drives coverage or vice versa, of course, remains an open empirical question.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New Nature Nanotechnology Editorial: Social and natural sciences need to get their act together

In an excellent editorial, Nature Nanotechnology Chief Editor Peter Rodgers today outlined some of the communication challenges nanotechnology may face in the near future. His editorial emphasized -- once again -- the need for systematic and research-based collaborations between social and natural sciences:

"However, nanoscientists and technologists should look to social scientists for more than just data on these questions — help from 'outside' is also needed to communicate effectively with the public. [...]

These and other results emphasize the difficulty of making sure there is not a public backlash against nanotechnology — there is no guarantee that the communication approaches that work for men in the US, for instance, will work for women in the US, let alone for anyone else in the world. One size certainly does not fit all. Given the complexity of this challenge it can be helpful to think in terms of 'frames' or 'perceptual filters' when trying to communicate with the public [...]. The basic idea of this approach is that most people are overloaded with information and not that interested in the details of nanotechnology or any other technology, so they use frames or filters — such as their political or religious beliefs — to process all this information and what it means for them."

(Read the full editorial here.)

Just to illustrate this point a little bit further, data from a forthcoming study by some of my colleagues and myself shows shows that religiosity is already emerging as an important "filter" for certain publics when they make sense of nano. And this is not just about a simple correlation between religiosity and attitudes toward science, which is important in its own right. But in this case, we're talking about a link between knowledge and attitudes that varies depending on respondents' levels of religiosity. In other words, knowing more about nanotechnology is consistently linked to more positive attitudes among less religious respondents. For more religious respondents, in contrast, high levels of knowledge do little to influence their attitudes about nano funding (see Figure).

(Based on Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A., Kim, E., & Lewenstein, B. V. (forthcoming). Religiosity as a perceptual filter: Examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology. Public Understanding of Science.)

Putting information out there, of course, continues to be an important goal for all science communication. But we also need to realize that different publics have different informational deficits, react very differently to information, and -- most importantly -- are looking for answers to questions that often have very little to do with the scientific issues surrounding emerging technologies. As the data from our forthcoming article show, fitting the moral implications of nano breakthroughs into their existing belief systems is much more important for sizable groups in society at the moment than understanding the science behind it.

For more on this idea of perceptual filters, see:

Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A., Kim, E., & Lewenstein, B. V. (forthcoming). Religiosity as a perceptual filter: Examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology. Public Understanding of Science.

Scheufele, D. A. (2006). Five lessons in nano outreach. Materials Today, 9(5), 64.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Public attention to global health threats since 9/11 mostly event-driven, with little substantive change in public preparedness

A new overview piece in Public Opinion Quarterly shows that Americans' attitudes on global health threats, such as avian flu, anthrax, and West Nile Virus, have been heavily event driven since 2001, and that awareness and knowledge levels have shown little or no substantive increases as a result of awareness campaigns or other efforts to increase public preparedness. Here is a short section from the introductory paragraphs of our study:

"The polls show that Americans’ attention to news coverage seemed to be event driven, peaking when there were new human or animal cases, and decreasing rapidly when the diseases seemed to have been contained. Americans’ perceptions of threats were usually the highest in the early stages of major outbreaks. The public became more complacent when the outbreaks seemed to be under control. Both behavioral changes and general knowledge remained largely constant, suggesting a limited impact of the various informational and awareness campaigns by governmental agencies in the wake of these pandemics."
(For the complete article, click here -- Ho, S., Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (2007). The Polls – Trends: Public reactions to global health threats and infectious diseases. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71(4), 671-692.)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

2007 Faculty Productivity Rankings -- Wisconsin #15, Mass Comm #4

The recent Academics Analytics / Chronicle of Higher Education Faculty Productivity Rankings have Wisconsin at #15 in the nation, ahead of Cornell, NYU, Brown, and the University of Chicago in terms of overall faculty productivity. Wisconsin is also ranked #4 in mass communication again, and one of only two programs that held their top-5 ranking in mass communication since last year.

All rankings are based on Academic Analytics' Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index™ (FSP Index)
[FSP] is a method for evaluating doctoral programs at Research Universities (across all Carnegie research classifications), based on a set of statistical algorithms developed by Lawrence Martin, Ph.D. and Anthony Olejniczak, Ph.D.. The FSP Index measures the annual productivity of faculty on several factors including:
  • Publications (books and journal articles)
  • Citations of journal publications
  • Federal Research Funding
  • Awards and Honors
Click here for the Chronicle's recent overview article on productivity rankings and some of the criticisms that have been raised about Academic Analytics's data sources and analyses.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New survey: Nanotech's health, environment impact worry scientists more than the general public (Nature Nanotechnology)

University of Wisconsin press release from today:


CONTACT: Dietram A. Scheufele (608) 262-1614,

MADISON -- The unknown human health and environmental impacts of nanotechnology are a bigger worry for scientists than for the public, according to a new report published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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 a technology with enormous potential -- and that is already emerging in hundreds of products -- are unsure what health and environmental problems might be posed by the technology.

"Scientists aren't saying there are problems," says 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 new 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.

Nanotechnology rests on science's newfound ability to manipulate matter at the smallest scale, on the order of molecules and atoms. The field has enormous potential to develop applications ranging from new antimicrobial materials and tiny probes to sample individual cells in human patients to vastly more powerful computers and lasers. Already products with nanotechnology built in include such things as golf clubs, tennis rackets and antimicrobial food storage containers.

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. Amplifying the problem is that the news media have paid scant attention to nanotechnology and its implications.

"It's starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but with the public, it's not on their radar," says Scheufele. "That's where we have the largest communication gap."

(Click here for the full press release.)


For media coverage of this story, see the Daily Telegraph and The Times (UK), Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), AFP (France), COSMOS magazine (Australia), SmallTimes and Nanowerk (U.S.), and other sources at Google News.

See also posts and discussions at, Framing Science and other blog reactions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"Why scientists must learn to talk to the media" ... this time a plea by the Financial Times

Public communication through the eyes of The Onion

Financial Times columnist Michael Skapinker had an excellent piece late last month about public communication between scientists and the public. Unfortunately, I traveled too much this past month and forgot to blog about this, but I still wanted to post at least a few paragraphs since they highlight almost perfectly some of the issues that are at the crux of the communication problems science continues to have:

Science and the media have not always served each other well. Last week, the Royal Society of Arts and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism hosted a stimulating discussion on the theme “Do scientists get the media they deserve?” The speakers were Craig Venter, the genome research pioneer, and Niall Dickson, a former BBC journalist who is now chief executive of the King’s Fund, the independent health charity.

On the basis of his performance, Mr Venter, who was once described in The New Yorker as an “idiot”, does not get the press he deserves. He was amusing and quietly spoken. He was also easier on journalists than Mr Dickson, who worried about the media’s tendency to sensationalise, to oversimplify and to reduce the world to black and white.

(Click here for the full article.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Wisconsin among the best 20 places to work in academia

The Scientist just published their list of best places to work in academia. The University of Wisconsin broke into the top-20 (#19, up from #28 in 2006).

Among Wisconsin's main strengths (and I wholeheartedly agree): outstanding peers and colleagues to work with, and excellent resources for doing research. Among the minuses listed by The Scientist: sub-par pay and job satisfaction.

Monday, October 29, 2007

IIT/National Press Club conference on nano risk and policy

Center on Nanotechnology and Society
2nd Annual Nanopolicy Conference:
Faces of Risk: Nanopolicy and the Agenda for Safety and Society

November 30, 2007
1:00 - 5:30 p.m.
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

Speakers include:
  • Carol Henry of the American Chemistry Council;
  • David Rejeski of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars;
  • Charles Rubin of Duquesne University and frequent contributor to The New Atlantis;
  • Jonathan Moreno of University of Pennsylvania and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress;
  • Margaret Glass of the National Science Foundation-funded Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net);
  • Dietram A. Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University;
  • Bill Kojola of the AFL-CIO;
  • Dahlia Sokolov of the House Science Committee professional staff.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New blog: Revkin's "Dot Earth"

The New York Times' Andrew Revkin just started his new environmental blog "Dot Earth." Here's an excerpt from Revkin's email announcement:

"I hope to make it a useful running conversation on how we head toward 9 billion with the fewest regrets. A conversation, though, needs voices (and not just me!). This is definitely going to be a two-way portal."

The blog is housed at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New paradigms for science communication? Chronicle of Higher Education comments on "The Scientist" piece

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a short essay today summarizing the key points from this month's cover article that Matt Nisbet and I wrote for The Scientist. Here's an excerpt:
The authors acknowledge the view that scientists should focus on research and leave the explanations to journalists and media-relations officers, saying that “in an ideal world, that's exactly what should happen." But in reality, they say, it is the researchers who ultimately end up in the public eye, giving interviews, writing books or articles, and advising policy makers.

“The stakes are high,” the authors add. “If across the media, scientists and their organizations are not effective in getting their messages across, then others will be.”

(Click here for the full article [for subscribers only].)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Just a theory" -- WIRED on reframing scientific debates

Clive Thompson's essay in the November issue of WIRED magazine is titled "A war of words: Science will triumph only when theory becomes law." And Thompson's central argument may not be new, but it's painfully on target. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement has hijacked the word "theory" and stripped it of its original academic meaning in public discourse. "Just a theory," in ID newspeak, means a lack of scientific certainty and something that is open to interpretation.

And the frame stuck. The public has bought into the idea. This, of course, highlights once again the need for scientists to pay attention to their language when communicating publicly about science. The words and frames they use to present their findings and their disciplines can have a a huge impact on long-term public discourse and public thinking about scientific issues. I have written about this repeatedly (for overviews, see nanopublic posts from September 30, 2007 and August 30, 2007, for example).

And Thompson's suggestions for a solution follow the same logic. He argues that we need a reframing of science ... not the content, just the label:
"For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let's stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let's revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as law."

(Click here for the WIRED piece.)
Unfortunately, it may be too late for that. Most academic research (for an overview, click here and here) suggests that once a frame is established in public discourse it is difficult to change. And the uncertainty frame around the "just a theory" slogan didn't have much competition from scientists for a long time. At this stage of the debate, it may be impossible to counter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Terabyte laptops soon, based on nanotech breakthrough?

Are you running out of hard drive space on your laptop? Or does your Zune still feel to big? Nanotech may soon offer a solution. Researchers at Hitachi have apparently reduced existing recording heads for computer hard drives by a factor of more than two to achieve new heads in the 30-50 nanometer (nm) range:

One of Hitachi's current models

"TOKYO, Oct. 15, 2007 -- Hitachi, Ltd. (NYSE: HIT / TSE: 6501) and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST), announced today they have developed the world's smallest read-head technology for hard disk drives, which is expected to quadruple current storage capacity limits to four terabytes (TB) on a desktop hard drive and one TB on a notebook hard drive.

[...] Called current perpendicular-to-the-plane giant magneto-resistive*1 (CPP-GMR) heads, Hitachi's new technology is expected to be implemented in shipping products in 2009 and reach its full potential in 2011.

Hitachi will present these achievements at the 8th Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Conference (PMRC 2007), to be held 15th -17th October 2007, at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan."

(Click here for a copy of the full press release.)

All of this follows last week's announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud in France and Peter Grünberg of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany for their work in nanotechnology that paved the way for the current generation of iPod-sized hard drives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Integrated nano campaign by Germany's chemical industry

European companies have learned their lessons from Frankenfood and Magic Nano. Most recently, the Initiative for Dialogue about Chemistry [Initiative Chemie im Dialog], a German industry organization trying to promote a better understanding between the chemical industry and the public, and DDB Düsseldorf rolled out their latest ad campaign, based on the slogan "Chemistry builds future" [Chemie macht Zukunft]. Here's an excerpt from the campaign web site:
"A lineup of ads present fascinating examples to show how emerging technologies will make our lives more comfortable, cleaner, and safer in the future. [...] When researchers improve manufacturing techniques and products, they often use solutions found in nature and simply adjust them to human needs."

"Ein werblicher Auftritt zeigt an verblüffenden Beispielen, wie neue Technologien künftig unser Leben bequemer, sauberer und sicherer machen. [...] Bei der Verbesserung von Produktionsverfahren und Produkten nutzen die Forscher häufig intelligente Lösungen der Natur und passen sie unseren Bedürfnissen an."
Again, Europeans have learned their lessons, relying on the "nano is nature" frame. The implicit argument is simple: Nanotechnology has little to do with manipulating nature or creating new, unnatural substances. Rather, it capitalizes on what has been part of nature for thousands of years and uses it to make the world safer, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly.

The narrative of the ads -- featured in mainstream political and business magazines -- directly feed into this larger frame:
"Thanks to nanotechnology, we will soon have environmentally friendly sources of lighting covering entire walls. [...] And they use significantly less energy than traditional energy-saving lightbulbs. But in order to allow the chemical industry to continue to turn research into successful consumer products, we need a social environment that is open-minded toward emerging technologies."

"Dank Nanotechnologie zieren umweltfreundliche Lichtquellen bald grossflächig die Wände.
[...] [Und sie] werden deutlich weniger Strom als herkömmliche Energiesparlampen verbrauchen. Damit die Chemie in Deutschland ihre Forschung weiterhin erfolgreich in Produkte umsetzen kann, braucht sie ein aufgeschlossenes Umfeld gegenüber modernen Technologien."
Most interestingly, however, a different set of ads also targets opinion leaders and policymakers. They are print ads based on excerpts from interviews with leading scientists, discussing the potential payoffs from investments in these new technologies, and run in political magazines and weeklies.

Here's an excerpt from one of the featured interviews with Nobel Prize winning physicist and co-inventor of the scanning tunneling microscope Gerd Karl Binning:
"How can we promote public acceptance of these new technologies?
It is important to communicate openly and create a basic level of trust in science. We as researchers enter uncharted territory, but we will keep the risks as small as possible. And not being creative and not exploring may be even more dangerous, because it simply means giving in to one's environment. How we want to live is not a question with easy answers. My kids use the World Wide Web, for example, exactly the same way I used to read books as a child. But 20 years ago, nobody thought that the Internet was a desirable new technology."

["Wie kann man es schaffen, dass neue Technologien angenommen werden?

Man muss offen kommunizieren und damit grundsätzlich Vertrauen in die Wissenschaft schaffen. Wir Forscher begeben uns auf Neuland, aber wir werden die Risiken so klein halten, wie es geht. Beschreitet man den kreativen Weg hingegen nicht, kann das gefährlicher sein, weil man sich den Umweltbedingungen ausliefert. Wie man leben will, ist freilich keine einfach zu beantwortende Frage. Meine Kinder benutzen das World Wide Web heute so selbstverständlich wie ich früher Bücher. Vor 20 Jahren hätte niemand das Internet als wünschenswerte Einrichtung genannt."]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

UW-Madison No. 2 in federal R&D funding in 2006

From UW's eCALS blog:

"The UW-Madison was number two in terms of federal funding for research and development in academic science and engineering fields in FY 2006, according to university-reported data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges.

Johns Hopkins University was first. However, it’s worth noting is that a significant portion of the funding going to Johns Hopkins is for classified research, which UW-Madison cannot accept. Wisconsin is in the top spot for institutions doing nonclassified funding."

(Click here for the full press release.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel Peace Prize goes political ... and Europeans gloat

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

OSLO, Norway (AP) - Former Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.

"I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize," Gore said. "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary on global warming, won an Academy Award this year and he had been widely expected to win the prize.

(Click here for the full AP story, and here for the Nobel Prize Committee's summary of this year's decision.)

Gore's cinematic OpEd "An Inconvenient Truth," according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, was only one reason for awarding him a share of the prize.

Peace Prize committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes said a possible Gore presidential run was not his concern.

"I want this prize to have everyone ... every human being, asking what they should do," Mjoes said. "What he (Gore) decides to do from here is his personal decision."

Mjoes reiterated repeatedly that the prize was not aimed at singling out the Bush administration and its position on global warming.

"A peace prize is never a criticism of anything. A peace prize is a positive message and support to all those champions of peace in the world."

The last American to win the prize or share it was former President Carter in 2002.

Meanwhile, European media are gloating about "a public slap in the face" for President Bush by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and "the inconvenient truth for the current administration" that the prize has "brought to light."
"The Nobel Prize for Al Gore is the most elegant way imaginable of giving George W. Bush a slap in the face for his politics on climate change. It was a smart and highly political choice.

[Die Verleihung des Friedensnobelpreises an Al Gore ist die denkbar eleganteste Art, George W. Bush eine Ohrfeige in Sachen Klimapolitik zu verpassen. Es ist eine kluge und hochpolitische Wahl. ]

[...] The Nobel Prize Committee has done one thing in particular with its choice of Al Gore and the IPCC: And that is criticize the Bush administration's politics on climate change -- and give the President a loud slap in the face. The message to the White House is simple: Do something!"

[[...] das Nobelpreiskomitee hat mit seiner Entscheidung für Gore und den Weltklimarat vor allem eines getan: Die Klimapolitik der Regierung Bush gerügt - und dem Präsidenten eine schallende Ohrfeige versetzt. Die Botschaft lautet: Tut was, Ihr da im Weißen Haus!]

(Click here for the full commentary from Der Stern, a German weekly.]
What's interesting, of course (and maybe a bad form of karma), is that George H. W. Bush, father of the current U.S. President, ridiculed Al Gore as "Ozone Man" during the 1992 Presidential race with Bill Clinton.

All of this wraps up a week of excitement in Europe about European or European-born researchers dominating the scientific part of this year's Nobel lineup.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nanotechnology pioneers win physics Nobel

Excerpt from the Financial Times today:

Two Europeans have won this year’s Nobel physics prize for a nanotechnology discovery that has led to the miniaturisation of hard disks in laptop computers and music players.

Albert Fert of Université Paris-Sud in France and Peter Grünberg of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany share the $1.54m prize for discovering the phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance or GMR. It makes it possible to read data that is densely packed on to the surface of a magnetic disk.

(Click here for the full article.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Nano silver washing machines again ... on the sense and nonsense of unilateral nano regulations

India's Hindu Times this week reported that Samsung will begin to sell their SilverCare washing machines in India. Samsung's washing machines and other products containing nano-sized silver particles, of course, have been the object of much debate in the U.S. recently and fall under FIFRA reporting requirements (see nanopublic posts from June 6, 2006 and November 23, 2006). As nano products begin to flood international markets, the limited usefulness of attempts to regulate nano applications at the domestic level, of course, becomes painfully obvious.

Samsung launches a new range of washing machines
New Delhi, Oct. 4 (PTI): Ahead of the festive season, Korean consumer durable maker Samsung today introduced a new range of semi-automatic washing machines in India. [...]

With over 10 million dollar invested in R&D, Silver Nano is the first technology that combines the disinfectant and antibiotic properties of electrolytic silver nano-particles (Ag+) in washing machines to remove harmful bacteria, the statement added.

(Click here for the full article.)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More on outreach: Cover story in The Scientist

The Scientist published a cover feature by Matthew C. Nisbet and myself on "The future of public engagement" in their October issue. This is from Matthew C. Nisbet's commentary over at Framing Science:
There's a great deal of context and research outlined in this article [...]. Allowed the luxury of space, we provide a fuller discussion of the origins and nature of research on framing. We then describe a common set of frames that previous work has identified as playing out over and over again across science-related issues. We also detail how past research helps explain the communication dynamics of the stem cell debate as well as the public trajectories of plant biotechnology and nanotechnology.

Importantly, in the article we address several concerns that people have raised about framing. We specifically counter critics who say framing is just spin; who argue that science cafes and other deliberative forums are the best mechanism for engaging the public; and who insist that "scientists should stick to the facts," letting institutional press officers handle the public translation of their research.

... and a short excerpt from the article itself:
The dominant assumption is that ignorance is at the root of conflict over science. According to this traditional "popular science" model, the media should be used to educate the public about the technical details of the issue in dispute. Once citizens are brought up to speed on the science, they will be more likely to judge scientific issues as scientists do and controversy will go away. The facts are assumed to speak for themselves and to be interpreted by all citizens in similar ways. If the public does not accept or recognize these facts, then the failure in transmission is blamed on journalists, "irrational" beliefs, or both. Yet many scientists ignore the possibility that their communication efforts might be part of the problem.

Perhaps worse, arguments in favor of the popular science model are not very scientific. In fact, they cut against more than 60 years of research in the social sciences, a body of work that suggests citizens prefer to rely on their social values to pick and choose information sources that confirm what they already believe, often making up their minds about a topic in the absence of knowledge. A second challenge to the popular science model is that in today's media world, by way of cable TV and the Internet, the public has greater access to quality information about science than at any time in history, yet public knowledge of science remains low. The reason is that a small audience remains attentive to science coverage, but the broader public literally tunes out, preferring other media content.

Given these realities, scientists must learn to focus on presenting, or "framing," their messages in ways that connect with diverse audiences. This means remaining true to the underlying science, but drawing on research to tailor messages in ways that make them personally relevant and meaningful to different publics.

Nisbet, M. C., Scheufele, D. A. (2007). The future of public engagement: The facts never speak for themselves, which is why scientists need to “frame” their messages to the public. The Scientist, 28(10).

Nanotechnology doesn't have a marketing problem ... yet

Here's an excerpt from my most recent column for Nano Today. ScienceDirect has a full text and PDF version.
Earlier this year, Google cofounder Larry Page gave a keynote speech at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His message was simple: science is at a critical junction because of the promise that it increasingly holds for changing the world as we know it [...] And since scientists have failed to
establish effective channels of communication with the general public, they have a serious marketing problem on their hands.

Page is right – at least to some degree. Successful public communication about issues like nanotechnology requires two very different types of expertise: expertise in what to communicate and expertise in how to communicate. So nanotechnology may not have a marketing problem just yet. But it could have one soon, unless scientists and social scientists collaborate systematically in order to find ways to connect meaningfully with citizens and consumers.

So what's the solution?

First of all, let's not call it marketing. Scientists are not in the business of selling science. But they should not undersell it. And this is where social science comes in. Effective communication is not a guessing game, it's a science – which means it is based on data. Public opinion research allows us to get a very accurate picture over time of exactly what different groups in society want to know about nanotechnology and its implications for their daily lives, what their concerns are, and who they're looking to for answers.

Finally, nano may have many problems as it is beginning to appear in public discourse. But a lack of trust in scientists is not one of them. In fact, nano provides a unique opportunity for scientists to do real public outreach, since they're the group the public trusts when they look for information about nanotechnology:
Preliminary data from our most recent survey suggest that university researchers and scientists working for nano businesses are among the most trusted sources for information about nanotechnology. This means that nanotech provides the scientific and business community with a unique opportunity to connect meaningfully with the general public about science more broadly and to engage different social groups on issues related to nanotech that they truly care about.

Does this mean that we can and should expect all scientists to communicate directly with the general public? The answer is clearly "no." Most of them have other primary professional goals, and many simply do not have the skills to successfully engage journalists or members of the public. But what there are promising efforts from various industry organizations in Europe, for example, to preemptively communicate with a wide variety of stakeholders through consistent messaging, i.e., communications that uses similar frames, messages, imagery, etc. and that has been developed by systematic research. And, again, if it's done right, it's not spin, as some argue, but rather a very effective means of talking to audiences that traditional science communication has not been able to reach.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nano world discovers marketing

Nanotechnology Now ran a column today by David Rejeski, Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, about word-of-mouth campaigns to promote nanotech. The column is interesting for two reasons.

First, Rejeski's column endorses techniques directly borrowed from marketing for science communication. This is an important turning point for science communicators, many of whom continue to reject the use of strategic communication tools as unethical (see nanopublic post from february 18, 2007).

The column also revisits concepts that corporations and social marketers have used for decades: opinion leadership, and buzz or viral marketing, and that corporations like Victoria Secret have perfected in recent campaigns. See, for example, the following excerpt from a February 6, 2007, nanopublic post:

"The concept [of opinion leadership] emerged from Paul Lazarsfeld's research in the 40s, much of which was funded by media organizations in order to understand how to better target audiences. Today, a battery of opinion leadership measures is included in most syndicated marketing surveys, such as Needham or Scarborough, and the idea has been rehashed in books like the Tipping Point and The Influentials. Most prominently, Victoria Secret uses opinion leaders or "campus ambassadors" to promote their Pink line among college students.

Second, the column ends with a pessimistic note about how the public views scientists and corporations:
"In a climate of declining public trust in both government and industry, new approaches to increase the public's technology I.Q. are needed—approaches that can bridge the credibility gap and scale-up rapidly to reach large segments of the population."

(Click here for the full column.)

The interesting thing is that the most recent iteration of public opinion surveys we conducted as part of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University shows that who the public trusts opens up promising venues for science communication.

In particular, our data showed that university scientists and scientists working for nano businesses are among the sources the public trusts most for information about nanotechnology. In other words, the nano field may have a very unique opportunity to connect with the general public about science more broadly and to engage different sub-publics on issues related to nanotech that they truly care about. A lack of trust in scientists, however, doesn't seem to be among these issues, according to our data.

I have outlined some of these ideas in greater detail in a forthcoming column for Nano Today:

Scheufele, D. A. (2007). Nano does not have a marketing problem … yet. Nano Today, 2(5), 48.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

AAAS 2008: Markets, Media, and Emerging Attitudes About Nanotechnology

Recently, a series of studies explored attitudes toward nanotechnology as a function of risk vs. benefits perceptions among citizens, of consumers’ value systems and religious beliefs, and of a potential disconnect between scientists and the public with respect to regulations and interpretations of the precautionary principle.

A panel at the 2008 AAAS meeting in Boston, MA on Markets, Media, and Emerging Attitudes About Nanotechnology will showcase results from these studies, explore what we currently know about how the public forms attitudes about nanotechnology, provide an outlook of what’s likely in store for the future in terms of media coverage and consumer sentiment, and identify leverage points for successful public outreach and relevant policy proposals.

The studies presented in this symposium were conducted as part of various collaborative efforts, including the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University, the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale University, and the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University. The presenters on this panel take a truly interdisciplinary look at the ethical, legal, and social implications of nanotechnology, coming from a wide range of disciplines, including public policy, communication, law, and business.

Mark your calendars. The 2008 AAAS meeting is in Boston, MA, February 14-18.

Panel Title:
Markets, Media, and Emerging Attitudes About Nanotechnology

Dietram A. Scheufele
, Professor, Life Sciences Communication, Wisconsin

Bruce V. Lewenstein, Professor, STS, Cornell

Elizabeth A. Corley, Assistant Professor, Public Policy, Arizona State
“Scientists and the public: Comparing views on risks and regulations”

Steven C. Currall, Professor, London Business School
“Consumer attitudes toward nanotech: The complex interplay of risks and benefits”

Dan M. Kahan, Professor, Law, Yale
“Nano risk perceptions: The role of emotions and affect”

Dietram A. Scheufele, Professor, Life Sciences Communication, Wisconsin

Wade Adams, Director, Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Rice

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Framing the debate about science communication around false dichotomies

The debate over new approaches to science communication continues with a series of letters in SCIENCE magazine. Most of them, unfortunately, argue one side of the issue or another, i.e., they frame the debate as an artificial choice between conveying information and framing. A good example, is the first letter by Ohio State Assistant Vice President for Research Communications Earle M. Holland:

"I would hope that researchers continue to rely on their data, rather than on what “spin” on an issue might prove more convincing."

(Click here for the complete set of letters in SCIENCE.)
Framing, of course, has nothing to with spinning non-information. Rather, as the Nobel Prize-winning work by Daniel Kahneman shows (see nanopublic post from April 6, 2007), framing deals with how the presentation of ambiguous stimuli influences audience interpretations. The question is not if we should frame or not. All messages are framed somehow. The question is how we can do a better job of presenting scientific facts, i.e., information that the vast majority of the population sees as ambiguous stimuli, to use Kahneman's language.

For more background, see:

Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda-setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9-20.

... and also a piece that Matthew C. Nisbet and I have forthcoming in The Scientist where we discuss some of the debates and their scientific merits in greater detail.

Big Oil, Big Pharma ... and now the NFL

From the New York Times, August 30, 2007

"In a television and online campaign that is to begin today, the league and its advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide, are borrowing the playbook, so to speak, of industries like Big Oil and the big drug companies, which have relied on the magic of Madison Avenue to redeem their public images. The N.F.L.’s idea is to counter the outcry over the criminal behavior of some players — not by apologizing for the misdeeds of a few, but by shining a spotlight on what is presented as the good behavior of the many."

(Click here for the complete article.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nano for the Hybrid-SUV generation

U.S. firms and Forbes's "Wolfe Nanotech Report" finally discovered what European firms have known for a while. People like saving the environment ... as long as it doesn't impact their lifestyle. And nano provides a variety of new applications for the often hypocritical Hybrid-SUV generation.

Along the "nano is nature" frame that European firms have used for a while (see nanopublic post from August 20, 2006), investors are now jumping on the clean technologies bandwagon in the U.S.

Nano Firms See Green in Clean-Tech Josh Wolfe, Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report, Forbes, 08.21.07

Global warming, pollution, dwindling natural resources and soaring energy costs are very much on everyone's mind these days. So it comes as no surprise that there is a strong investor interest in clean technologies, otherwise known as "clean-tech."

"Clean-tech is the future" goes the pitch, and there are big profits to be made for early investors.
Nanotechnology is rapidly revolutionizing American industry. Click here for the special investor report "Nano 101: An Insider's Guide to the World of Nanotechnology," from Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report.

To be sure, we have already witnessed the consequences of Wall Street's enthusiasm for everything clean and green. In the last 12 months, there have been no fewer than 30 IPOs involving clean-tech. And with global markets awash in capital, companies in clean businesses ranging from fuel cells to fuel-efficient vehicles are now the belles of the ball.


Potential clean-tech investors also need to be aware that foreign governments are funding their domestic clean-tech initiatives at a much faster pace than the U.S., with the Asia/Pacific region representing 38% of the pie, followed by Europe and, in third place, the U.S. That means that in addition to competing with large domestic incumbents, U.S. start-ups must also contend with foreign competitors backed by government programs. Notable examples are solar energy in Germany, fuel cells in South Korea and high-performance batteries in Japan.

(Click here for the full Forbes article.)

Ironically, of course, all of this comes on the heels of recent attempts by the EPA and FDA to establish useful regulatory frameworks for the environmental health and safety aspects
of nanotech.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Science as conflict: The frame's still there ...

This week's Newsweek cover story, unfortunately, puts an end to any hopes that journalists may finally have realized that conflict and horse race frames do little to promote informed public discourse about scientific issues. Here's an excerpt from the Newsweek story.
If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. ...

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do."
And the Newsweek article is right on target in assuming that interest groups and think tanks play a large role in shaping public (mis)perceptions. But none of this would be possible, of course, if news outlets like Newsweek didn't almost automatically buy into any conflict frame that these think tanks and interest groups feed them.

Decades of research on public opinion formation have shown that mass media are a key source of people's perceptions of opinion climates, i.e., of perceptions about what everyone else thinks.* And if the public makes judgments about scientific consensus, they rely primarily on what they learn from news media ... or from Newsweek covers like the one this week.

* See for example Scheufele, D. A., & Moy, P. (2000). Twenty-five years of the spiral of silence: A conceptual review and empirical outlook. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 12(1), 3-28.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

FDA: No nano labeling

By Kim Dixon

Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 3:37 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday said the rising number of cosmetics, drugs and other products made using nanotechnology do not require special regulations or labeling.

The recommendations come as the agency looks at the oversight of products that employ the design and use of particles as small as one-billionth of a meter. There are fears by consumer groups and others that these tiny particles are unpredictable, could be toxic and therefore have unforeseen health impacts.

(Click here for the full story.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NEWS RELEASE: EPA Invites Public Comment on Design of Nanotechnology Stewardship Program

"News Brief:
For Release: (Washington, D.C. – Wednesday, July 11, 2007)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

In its continuing efforts to better understand the potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology, EPA is inviting the public to comment on the agency's proposed approach to developing a Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP). EPA's approach will increase the scientific understanding and ensure appropriate oversight of nanoscale industrial chemicals to facilitate the responsible development of this growing technology."

(Click here for the full release.)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mooney on science issue cycles and tipping points ...

Chris Mooney wrote about science issue cycles in the Huffington Post today, and about the reasons for global warming finally hitting mainstream media in a way that systematically captured public attention:
"2005 saw several key developments, including a focus on global warming at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles, a record temperature year globally, and most of all, Hurricane Katrina. The latter sparked unprecedented levels of discussion of the relationship between global warming and hurricanes in particular. ...

There can be little doubt, then, that rising levels of media coverage of global warming over the past several years have helped the issue reach an apparent tipping point. Yet we can't simply point to the total volume of attention -- we must also consider the content of press coverage over time. Several seeming shifts in the narratives that journalists have been telling may have further contributed to progress on the issue

(Click here for the full article.)

The idea of issue cycles, of course, is directly relevant to the debates surrounding nanotech. Why and when will nano go mainstream? And why does it matter? The answer, of course, is much more complex than the naive speculations among some scientists about "Prey" and its potential impact on the public. And the simplistic comparisons between a potential movie version of "Prey" and "An Inconvenient Truth" make little sense, based on what we know from decades of media effects research.

As Mooney outlines nicely, "An Inconvenient Truth" was just one of a myriad of interrelated factors that helped put global warming on the public agenda. And its impact was largely indirect and contingent on the media coverage triggered by pseudo events, such as the Oscar the film won and its unlikely commercial success at the box office. Matt Nisbet also discussed some of the parallel dynamics for nanotech over at Framing Science last week.

The Huffington Post piece, of course, is also part of the events surrounding the release of Mooney's new book Storm World. I haven't had a chance to look at the book yet, but I know Mooney's previous work, and if anything he is an excellent journalist. I am sure Storm Wars will just provide more evidence of that. I will keep you posted.

Need nano bling?

Now there's nano Bling™. And it's an environmentally safe bio-cleaner. At least according to the Australian manufacturer's web site. And the marketing strategy surrounding nano Bling™ is just one more example of the "nano is nature" frame that most nano businesses in Europe and Asia seem to be relying on as they target markets that often approach new technologies very cautiously.

And as I have argued before, nano businesses -- at least in Europe -- don't just have to deal with concerns about nanotechnology itself, but also with people's lingering concerns about the chemical spills of the 1980s and 1990s, about nuclear energy and fallout from Chernobyl, and about the debates surrounding ag biotech.

Along those lines, the Bling™ marketing materials are all about protecting the environment and natural resources, with little emphasis on the nano science behind it:
"Glass Bling™ instantly repels water, Ice , Oil, Dirt And Bugs anything that come into contact your windsreen or glass/tiled surface. The surface is protected and water will bead and run off on impact! It’s easier to keep your windscreen clean, driving becomes safer, because visibility is significantly improved. You will love it!
Bling™ your ride today!

* Environment
* Water
* Your time
* Your Money
You need Bling™ in your life!"

On a side note, this news item came from Green Technology Forum (GTF) where former blogger George Elvin writes on business-related news about nanotech and biotech:
"Green Technology Forum is a research and advising firm focusing on nanotechnology and biotechnology for growing green businesses. By helping businesspeople understand the benefits and challenges of these revolutionary technologies, we help them develop strategies, products and services that benefit their customers, the environment, and their bottom line."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Environmental Defense / DuPont collaboration on nanorisks goes live

Environmental Defense and DuPont will officially launch their Nanorisk Framework today. This collaboration between an advocacy group and a corporate player has been discussed for a while now in nano circles as an interesting new model for managing potential emerging health and safety risks (see posting from may 21, 2006).
"The Framework is information-driven; it does not implicitly assume the risk or safety of any material. Where there is little or no information to guide decisions on the potential for a particular hazard or exposure, the Framework suggests using “reasonable worst-case assumptions” — or, alternatively, using comparisons to other materials or processes that have been better characterized — along with management practices appropriate to those options. The Framework is also designed to encourage replacing assumptions with real information, especially as a product nears commercial launch, and refining management practices accordingly."

(Click here for a complete Executive Summary.)

The complete framework will be presented via webcast today, July 21, at 11:00 a.m. EST. More details on the Framework are also available at
"Environmental Defense Director of Corporate Partnerships Gwen Ruta and DuPont Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Linda Fisher will discuss the impetus for forming this partnership and the rationale for developing a guidance document for responsible use of engineered nanoscale materials. They will also discuss how this framework adds to the growing public discourse on nanotechnology overall."

(Click here for the complete press release.)

Step 4 of the framework deals with risk management, including risk communication. Among the recommended questions:
■ Is hazard and safe-handling information shared with those who have a need to know?
■ Are procedures communicated to customers in order to inform them on how to safely use, dispose of, or recycle the product and manage environmental, health, and
safety risks?
■ Do labels and other safety-information communications indicate the extent of harm that could result from reasonably foreseeable misuse?
■ Does packaging comply with transportation and risk regulations?
■ Are workers and customers throughout the lifecycle adequately informed and protected?

(Click here for a copy of the complete Framework.)

The risk communication section, of course, is left fairly vague and questions about what it means for the public to be "adequately informed" or how we can effectively reach different types of consumers and address their specific concerns will have to be answered by communication professionals down the road.

What's interesting is that a European equivalent of the risk framework model is already in existence (see posting from March 3, 2007). And it focuses much more explicitly on the consumer side of things. Back in March, the Innovationsgesellschaft St. Gallen, a technology consultancy firm in Switzerland, just began to offer CENARIOS®, a risk management and monitoring system for nanotechnology, to their clients. Here's an excerpt from their product description:
"CENARIOS® includes a criteria index based on TÜV standards with requirements towards employees, risk assessment and risk management (risk communication and issues management). The certificate for CENARIOS® is given by the certification authority of TÜV SÜD according their standards and it is verified periodically. The certification process ensures that internal communication is optimised and that the risk management system is continuously improved."
In other words, CENARIOS is a full-service risk assessment and management tool. It is based on three steps, two of which mostly deal with the ethical, legal, and social (ELSI) aspects nanotechnology. In addition to scientific risk assessment of specific products, the CENARIOS product description focuses heavily on assessments of the information environment, including media coverage and public opinion climates, and on communication-based crisis management and prevention.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Onion: iPhone can "nano reassemble" itself

From The Onion (06/20/2007):

"Apple's New iPhone

Apple is set to release the much-hyped iPhone Friday, June 29. Here are some of its most highly anticipated features:

Nanotechnology enables it to reassemble itself when thrown against wall"

And, of course ...

"Reproduces through asexual budding"

Nano pork for Department of Defense has an interesting spin on the recent Department of Defense report on their Defense Nanotechnology Research and Development Program. As the Nanowerk graph below shows, DoD actually ended up with more money for nano research than they officially requested. The explanation? Congressional pork spending.


Ironically, even the DoD looks at these additions somewhat critically:

(Click here for the full report.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

NPR Science Friday from Cornell Nanotech Facility

NPR's Science Friday this past week helped celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cornell University's Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility. Given that my first tenured appointment was at Cornell, I was happy to get an update on what's currently going on in nano in Ithaca, NY. But more importantly, the Cornell event featured a number of excellent talks and panels about nanotechnology and its societal implications.

Click here for the full program of the Cornell event, and here for a link to the archived show on