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.