Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Onion on nano bots and terrorism ....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wisconsin Week: Q&A on communicating nanotech

From a Q&A in Wisconsin Week:
[...] Wisconsin Week: Why has nanotechnology, as opposed to other kinds of science, become a moral dilemma for many people as viewed through the prism of religion?

Scheufele: I am not sure if nanotechnology is the only recent example of a scientific area that challenged some people’s religious views. In fact, for genetically engineered organisms we saw similar discussions about “unnatural science” and about scientists “interfering with nature” or “playing God.” But two things are different for nanotechnology. It has a potential impact on virtually all areas of life, ranging from medicine to materials and the environment. And as a result, the potential conflict between religiosity and science will likely be much more salient for nanotechnology, in particular with respect to nano-bio-info-cogno (NBIC) technologies that may, in the future, enable us to create synthetic life and intelligence without divine intervention.

WW: How do the views of Americans differ from those of people in countries where religion is less a part of everyday life?

DS: It depends on which countries we compare the United States to. Our analyses showed that the United States is in many ways very similar to countries like Italy, Ireland and Austria, who have deeply rooted religious traditions. But the United States differs significantly from more secular European countries like France, Germany or Denmark,with a less religious citizenry and fewer moral qualms about nanotechnology.


WW: How do we explain the paradox of such a dynamic and pervasive field of technology coming under a cloud of moral scrutiny in a country that thrives on technology?

DS: I am not sure if it is really such a paradox. Science and religion are not incompatible. And many of the questions that modern science raises do not have scientific answers. Is it moral or not to create new life, for example, if that will ever be possible? And what are the social effects of virtually invisible surveillance devices that can trace our every movement? The answers to these questions depend on our values, ethics, beliefs and morals. And society will only find answers if all of these considerations are taken into account and help us understand the implications of what science has made or will make possible.


WW: Do we need to rethink the way we talk about science and its implications in America?

DS: Absolutely. Effective communication with wide cross sections of society is probably more important now than it’s ever been. Issues like nanotechnology and stem cell research raise questions about what it means to be human, what kind of applications we want in the market and how quickly. The tricky part is that, while scientists generally realize how important it is to connect with the public, many people have taken the approach that it will be enough if we just put sound science out there. But unfortunately that’s not really supported by our research.

Rather, we need to realize that different publics have different informational needs, 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 some of our recent research here at Wisconsin shows, trying to make sense of the moral implications of nano breakthroughs based on their own belief or value systems is much more important for some groups in society at the moment than understanding the science behind it.

(Click here for the full interview.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

It's not just science - nanotechnology and values around the globe

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of events, editorials, and grant announcements related to synthetic biology and the notion of creating artificial life forms. Nanowerk, for instance, just reported on a $3 million grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) for a nanoscience program entitled "Soft-Matter Nanotechnology to Create Artificial Life Forms."

Our most recent study, released today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology (abstract; press release; supplementary tables and information), suggests that these new technologies may get a very different welcome in different parts of the globe.

Here's a short excerpt from the UW-Madison press release:
... [s]urvey results from the United States and Europe reveal a sharp contrast in the perception that nanotechnology is morally acceptable. Those views, according to the report, correlate directly with aggregate levels of religious views in each country surveyed.

In the United States and a few European countries where religion plays a larger role in everyday life, notably Italy, Austria and Ireland, nanotechnology and its potential to alter living organisms or even inspire synthetic life is perceived as less morally acceptable. In more secular European societies, such as those in France and Germany, individuals are much less likely to view nanotechnology through the prism of religion and find it ethically suspect.

"The level of ‘religiosity’ in a particular country is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not people see nanotechnology as morally acceptable," says Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of Life Sciences Communication and the lead author of the new study. "Religion was the strongest influence over everything."

Religious Climates and Attitudes Toward
Moral Acceptability of Nanotechnology

Scheufele, D. A., Corley, E. A., Shih, T.-j., Dalrymple, K. E., & Ho, S. S. (forthcoming). Religious beliefs and public attitudes to nanotechnology in Europe and the US. Nature Nanotechnology (first published online on December 7, 2008 as doi:10.1038/NNANO.2008.361).
What was particularly interesting is the fact that religious climates in different countries did not just influence views about the moral acceptability of nanotechnology, but also of how useful nanotechnology is for society.

All of this, of course, has tremendous implications for science communication and science policy. The emerging differences we found in attitudes and concerns across countries are certainly consistent with calls for an international effort to draft nano regulations or roadmaps sooner rather than later.

But our study also highlights the importance of values, beliefs, and confirms findings from a number of recent studies (Brossard, Scheufele, Kim, & Lewenstein, forthcoming; Ho, Brossard, & Scheufele, 2008; Kahan, 2008; Nisbet, 2005) that all examine how values shape the interpretation of scientific information. This research shows that the exact same information can translate into very different attitudinal conclusions for highly religious respondents than for non-religious ones. In other words, we may be wasting valuable time and resources by focusing our efforts on putting more and more information in front of an unaware public, without first developing a better understanding of how different groups will filter or reinterpret this information when it reaches them, given their personal value systems and beliefs.

So what's the moral question behind nano? One answer comes from QuinnNorton on the O'Reilly Radar:
"The question is not so much whether synthetic biology will remake society, but who will be in control when it does. "
Many scientists, meanwhile, still don't see the connection between the scientific aspects of their work and its social or moral implications. In a recent interview with a Medill graduate student, Stanford assistant professor Drew Endy described the difference to a god-like creator as mostly skill related:
Q. What do you say to the argument that only God should do the type of reconstructing that you’re researching?

A. I think it’s a different question if the concerns have to do with making something new. I don’t view making something new, whether it’s reprogramming the bouquet of a bacteria or a more serious project. I don’t view those projects as creating life, but rather construction projects. For me as an engineer, there’s a big difference between the words creation and construction. Creation implies I have unlimited power, perfect understanding of the universe, and the ability to manipulate matter at a godlike level. That’s not what I have. I have an imperfect understanding, a budget, limited resources, and I can only manipulate things quite crudely. In that context, with those constraints, I’m a more humble constructor.

(Click here for the full interview.)
For more information on the work in nanotechnology and society at UW, see Nano&Society@UW, the Department of Life Sciences Communication in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences at UW, and an overview of other relevant publications from my research group here.

Update: Also see articles by Dan Kahan and colleagues (here) and Nick Pidgeon and colleagues (here) in the same issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

NYT on Nanophobia

By 9am this morning I had ten email forwards with this story in my inbox. So I am guessing that the title of Natasha Singer's piece in today's New York Times is pretty self-explanatory:
New Products Bring Side Effect: Nanophobia

IT sounds like a plot straight out of a science-fiction novel by Michael Crichton. Toiletry companies formulate new cutting-edge creams and lotions that contain tiny components designed to work more effectively. But those minuscule building blocks have an unexpected drawback: the ability to penetrate the skin, swarm through the body and overwhelm organs like the liver.

(Click here for the full NYT story.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Science of (Science) Communication ... A Few Thoughts

Over at Framing Science, Matt Nisbet just posted a short section from a first draft of an article he and I are putting together for a special upcoming journal symposium on the future of science communication.

"In a way its an updated, bigger picture on the arguments we made in the cover article we wrote last year for The Scientist. It also draws upon insights and lessons learned from talks at a diversity of venues over the last year, our work with organizations such as the National Academies, and the studies we have published in the area.

Below the fold are details on our conclusions from the first draft of the manuscript:

Ironically enough, on issues such as smoking or HIV education, scientists have few reservations about employing techniques borrowed from marketing, advertising, and political campaigns. Yet deficit-model thinking continues to generate a strongly emotional reaction to the suggestion that scientists use similar strategies to engage the broader public on other science-related debates.

In this matter then, science communication stands at a crossroads. We have entered an era where most policy debates and emerging technologies are no longer merely scientific issues. Rather, they are collectively decided in the context of politics, values, and culture. Under these conditions, sophisticated public outreach is essential for overcoming policy gridlock on climate change, for shoring up support for the teaching of evolution in schools, for ensuring funding for research programs in emerging areas such as plant biotechnology and nanotechnology, and for effectively communicating with a wider public on almost any issue.

To conclude, we detail several recommendations for new directions in public communication, paths forward derived from the research and principles reviewed in this essay.

Graduate training and new interdisciplinary degree programs. College and doctoral students majoring in the sciences should be offered courses and training in communication. These courses introduce young scientists to much of the research reviewed in this essay, focusing on the relationships between science, the media, and society, and providing valuable professional know-how and skills. There is also the demand for new inter-disciplinary degree programs that combine course work in communication, the sciences, policy or law, sociology, and other fields. Graduates of these programs are likely to find jobs in the news media, the high-tech industries, the government sector, or at research institutions, public affairs strategy firms, and not-for-profits. These new graduate programs would be the pedagogical equivalent of the on-the-job training that the successful AAAS policy fellows program provides Ph.D. scientists or that the Aldo Leopold fellows program offers mid-career scientists.

Some critics of our proposals have argued that scientists should stick to research and let media relations officers and science writers worry about translating the implications of that research (Holland et al., 2007). They are right: In an ideal world that's exactly what should happen. Yet in reality, scientists will be the key individuals who will be giving the interviews, testifying before Congress or addressing local community forums. Perhaps even more importantly, as senior decision-makers, many scientists are ultimately responsible for setting communication policy at scientific institutions, agencies, and organizations. These leaders need to understand how research can and should inform public communication on all issues.

Public dialogue that matters. As reviewed, public dialogue initiatives have many positive uses but also several limitations. In order to enhance public participation, significant resources need to be spent on sampling, recruitment, and turn-out. Multiple meetings should also be held across dates and locations. In this case, success is a function of money and careful planning. Another strategy to boost public interest in these types of meetings is to pair expert testimony and deliberation with the viewing of a documentary or series of short films. These "deliberative screenings" can not only increase public turn out, but also help frame discussion and thinking in ways that might bridge polarized views. They also provide an additional outlet and repurposing for many NSF-funded films and media productions.

The scope and impact of public dialogue initiatives can also be expanded by generating local and national news attention to the event. Not only does this news attention reach a larger audience with a message that scientists are open to public input, but coverage is likely to reflect the types of frames that the meetings were organized around. For example, a recent study found that a public consultation exercise on nanotechnology generated discussion that was framed mostly in social progress terms, accenting the benefits to society (Besley et al., 2008).

A commitment to early consultation and to a genuine role for participants' recommendations can only come with the realization that sometimes a competent, informed, and engaged public might reach collective decisions that go against the self-interest of scientists. For example, at a recent public consultation exercise on nanotechnology, though the recommendations were not binding as policy, one of the outcomes was that several recruited participants decided to subsequently form their own local advocacy group to monitor the development of nanotechnology in the area (Powell & Kleinman, 2008).

Data should trump intuition. Efforts to use the media and communication campaigns to engage the public on science need to adapt to the realities of today's information environment. Many approaches to science communication and outreach still rely heavily on traditional channels, such as science television or newspapers. Recent survey data, however, suggests that we are seeing significant shifts from television (which is still the primary source of information for three quarters of respondents 65 years or older) to online sources (which are the preferred medium for more than half of the under 24 year olds) (Pew, 2008b). The same data also show that interest in science-related issues is highest among respondents who relied mainly on new information technologies for news, as opposed to traditional mass media channels.

Effective public communication is not a guessing game; it is 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 climate change, evolution, biotechnology, or nanotechnology, about potential implications for their daily lives, about what their concerns are, and who they are looking to for answers (Scheufele, et al., 2007). Relying on systematic research to understand and communicate effectively with different publics is therefore critical to understanding how the public thinks about new technologies, what they know, and what the informational channels are to reach them most effectively.

Quality research, of course, is expensive. Recent calls for the National Science Foundation to fund more direct research on science communication are welcome developments as is the leadership role played by the National Academies in commissioning audience research on evolution. Similarly, the National Academy of Engineering recently issued recommendations for recruiting women and minorities into careers in science and engineering, relying on empirical audience research and principles of strategic communication (Committee on Public Understanding of Engineering Messages 2008).

Connecting to public values. Effective communication will necessitate connecting a scientific topic to something the public already values, emphasizing shared common ground. And in people's minds, these links are critical for making sense of scientific information. A number of recent studies examine how values shape the interpretation of scientific information. Findings on religiosity, for instance, show that the exact same information can translate into very different attitudinal conclusions for highly religious respondents than for non-religious ones (Brossard, Scheufele, Kim, & Lewenstein, forthcoming; Ho, Brossard, & Scheufele, 2008; Nisbet & Goidel, 2007; Nisbet, 2005; Nisbet & Nisbet, 2005). In other words, we may be wasting valuable time and resources by focusing our efforts on putting more and more information in front of an unaware public, without first developing a better understanding of how different groups will filter or reinterpret this information when it reaches them, given their personal value systems and beliefs. Recent research also suggests that these value-based filters may in fact differ across different cultures or national settings (Scheufele, Corley, Shih, Dalrymple, & Ho, forthcoming).

Science communication that does not focus on elite audiences. As mentioned earlier, some critics argue that it would be unethical to take advantage of strategic communication tools in order to make scientific issues more relevant to a general public. But recent data on potentially widening knowledge gaps suggests that it may be unethical if we did not use all communication tools at our disposal in order to connect with hard-to-reach audiences (Scheufele & Brossard, 2008).

Many traditional approaches to public communication about science, for instance, have inadvertently favored elite audiences. In fact, some previous attempts to connect across diverse sections of the public have resulted in widening gaps between the already information rich and the information poor. This is partly due to likelihood of exposure. Almost 40% of college-educated respondents, for instance, visited a science or technology museum in 2006, compared to less than 10 percent for respondents with a high school education or less (National Science Board, 2008).

As a result, museum exhibits, science Web sites, traditional science documentaries, and similar outreach efforts may inherently favor elite audiences. Widening gaps between the information rich and information poor are also a function of the way issues like nanotechnology and biotechnology play out in public discourse. In their research on "knowledge gaps," Phil Tichenor and his colleagues (1970) found that audiences with high socioeconomic status (SES) showed much stronger learning effects from health related information than low-SES audiences. This effect is in part due to the fact that TV shows like PBS' NOVA or the Science section of the New York Times tailor their content to highly educated audiences. As a result, learning effects for mass audiences are minimal, even if these audiences happen to tune in to NOVA or read an article in the New York Times.

Consider alternatively, that surveys show that local television news is among the dominant sources of public affairs-related information for the American public. Therefore, in order to reach non-traditional audiences, scientists and their organizations need to be on local television news. Major national communication efforts should be closely coordinated across local media markets, with specific scientists, institutions, or organizations serving as the local angle and spokesperson.

A recent National Academies (2008) initiative that pairs scientists as consultants on major motion pictures and television series is also a step in the direction of reaching new audiences. Long used as a strategy for engaging the public on public health issues (Kaiser, 2004; Montgomery, 2007), active involvement with Hollywood in the construction of messages about science can lead to a range of outcomes including informal learning, enhanced interest and attention to science in news coverage and other media, the modeling of positive behavior related to environmental sustainability or energy use, the favorable framing of controversial issues such as the teaching of evolution in schools, or even a spike in news or policy attention to a scientific topic such as climate change (Nisbet, 2008; Nisbet, 2007).

Other important media outlets for expanding audience reach include comedy news programs such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Studies have documented the ability of these programs to engage younger, harder to reach audiences about political candidates and election campaigns, shaping their political attitudes and levels of political knowledge (Feldman, 2007; Feldman & Goldthwaite-Young, 2008). On science, a recent Pew (2008c) analysis finds that The Daily Show includes comparatively more attention to science and technology topics than the mainstream press and significantly more attention to climate change. These programs also generate buzz online with heavily-trafficked and forwarded clips on hot-button science topics such as evolution, genetics, climate change, or stem cell research. Additionally, both shows frequently feature scientists and science authors as interview guests, examples including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene.

Given that satire and comedic news is an increasingly preferred media format for younger audiences, more research is needed on the potential for using this style of humor as a tool for public engagement on science. Little is known, for example, about the comparative effects of science information communicated in satirical form compared with the same information communicated in traditional science media. Greater understanding in this area would inform not just media strategy but also the incorporation of humor and satire into the production of documentary film, Web, and museum content.

Opinion leader campaigns that bridge audience gaps. With so much focus on media strategy, it is important not to forget that perhaps the most effective strategy for connecting with difficult to reach audiences are face-to-face conversations and other interpersonal channels. In this matter, science organizations need to mobilize specially trained opinion-leaders who can bridge the communication gap between news coverage and inattentive audiences, talking up to their friends, family, and co-workers the relevance of science-related issues such as climate change or the teaching of evolution in schools.

We know that these science opinion-leaders exist and can be recruited. For more than sixty years, researchers have traced the influence of news and advertising messages in local communities, identifying a small group of opinion-leading individuals who pay close attention public affairs and advertising, discuss what they learn from the media with a diversity of others, and appear to be more persuasive in convincing others to adopt an opinion or course of action. In this "two step-flow of information," opinion-leaders do not necessarily hold formal positions of power or prestige, but rather serve as the connective communication tissue that alerts their peers to what matters among political events, social issues, and consumer choices (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1948). Over the past decade, as audiences have become more difficult to reach and less trustful of the media, this research has informed innovative communication campaigns in the areas of public health, politics, and consumer marketing. Yet despite the widespread targeting of opinion-leaders in these other fields, science organizations have traditionally overlooked this important dimension of public engagement.

Several validated measurement techniques exist for identifying individuals with opinion-leader like qualities in surveys and questionnaires. Once recruited and trained, audience-tested messages, such as those developed by the National Academies on evolution, can be matched to an opinion-leader's social background and network. Moreover, when "surges" in communication and public attention are needed --such as surrounding the release of a future IPCC report or a major state legislative vote on evolution-- opinion leaders can be activated with talking points to share in conversations with friends and co-workers, in emails, in blog posts, or letters to the editor (see Nisbet & Kotcher, 2009, for an overview)."
(Click here for the full blog post.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"They tried to teach my baby science"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Germany: Positive image of nanotechnology in the media

From Chemie.de trade wire:
Positive image of nanotechnology in the media
BfR publishes analysis of nanotechnology coverage

12 Nov 2008 - The analysis of nanotechnology coverage in German print media was the subject of a research project conducted by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The results: In the media coverage nanotechnology is not presented as a risk technology; most articles stress the benefits of this new technology. "The largely positive coverage in the media reflects the positive image of nanotechnology amongst the general public at the present time", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of BfR. Two earlier scientific studies by BfR had already revealed that consumers in Germany mainly see benefits in conjunction with the use of nanotechnologies. For instance, its use in medicine and in consumer articles like cleaning products was stressed. By contrast, consumers are sceptical about the use of nanoparticles in foods. The final reports of the three research projects have been published in the Institute’s own series "BfR-Wissenschaft".

(Click here for the complete Chemie.de article, and here for the BfR report in German.)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Mooney on the decline in science journalism

Chris Mooney has an excellent column up at Scienceprogress.com on the decline of science coverage in daily newspapers. Ironically, Scienceprogress.com is where Rick Weiss found a new home as Senior Fellow after his recent departure from the Washington Post.
From Mooney's column:

"It may be understandable that newspapers are cutting back on total coverage in light of the economic challenges they face; it may even be understandable that they see science as one obvious area where they can save dollars and space. But still, one behind-the-scenes detail that [former Toronto Star science reporter] Calamai related in Montreal just blew my mind. When the Star got rid of its formal science section, he remembered, almost no one called in to complain."

(Click here for the full article.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New PUoS study: Public opinion toward nano -- values as perceptual filters

An early-access version of a forthcoming article in Public Understanding of Science by Dominique Brossard, Eunkyung Kim, Bruce Lewenstein and myself was just posted on Sage's web site. It examines how values shape the interpretation of scientific information. The study shows how the exact same information can translate into very different attitudinal conclusions for highly religious respondents than for non-religious ones. In other words, we may be wasting valuable time and resources by focusing our efforts on putting more and more information in front of an unaware public, without first developing a better understanding of how different groups will filter or reinterpret this information when it reaches them, given their personal value systems and beliefs.

From the abstract:
Using national survey data, we ... show that strength of religious beliefs is negatively related to support for funding of the technology. Our findings also confirm that science media use plays an important role in shaping positive attitudes toward the technology. Overall public support for funding nanotechnology is not directly related to levels of knowledge among the electorate, but on risk and benefits perceptions and the use of media frames. However, knowledge about the technology does tend to be interpreted through the lens of religious beliefs and therefore indirectly affect levels of support.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Wisconsin #6 in social sciences, #3 in communication

Thomson Reuters just ranked UW-Madison as the 6th most-cited institution in the social sciences. This ranking is based on the citation counts between 1998 and 2008 for all disciplinary papers published in ISI's Social Science Citation Index, and lists Wisconsin ahead of schools like Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Yale, Stanford, Penn, Chicago, and Berkeley.

ISI also puts Communication at Wisconsin in the top-three again, based on the number of papers to the field of communication over the last five years.

Framing the bailout

One more piece of evidence on the importance of language. AdvertisingAge on how tweaking the language could have helped avoid legislative delays on the bailout/rescue package for U.S. financial institutions:

PR Pros Offer Pointers to 'Bailout' Backers
For Starters, 'Rescue' Might Be a Better Term

By Michael Bush
Published: October 01, 2008

"NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Better marketing could have delivered a bailout package by now. Indeed, according to some communications professionals, something as basic as not calling it a "bailout" may have meant faster approval. ..."

(Click here for full article.)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Of framing, intelligent design, and Sarah Palin ...

George Lakoff, Berkeley linguist and advisor to various Democratic groups, has an excellent blog at the Huffington Post on the Republicans' consistent success in connecting with regular voters. The idea is not new: Voters don't process political ideas and information as disconnected facts. Rather, efficient information processing involves tying new information to existing cultural narratives and cognitive schemas. And the candidate who is most successful at helping voters establish these links will also be able influence public perception of these issues. Or as Lakoff puts it:
"Our job is to bring external realities together with the reality of the political mind. Don't ignore the cognitive dimension. It is through cultural narratives, metaphors, and frames that we understand and express our ideals."
The only thing that is surprising about all of this, is that after the Gore and Kerry debacles, the Democrats still haven't gotten the hang of this. And McCain/Palin are ready to debate their views on the environment, intelligent design, and gun rights ... and show voters how they connect to the key themes of the campaign that McCain outlined them on the morning news shows last Sunday and that make intuitive sense to a lot of voters: peace, prosperity, and reform.
[...] Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats' language and reframing it -- putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she's from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to mayor, governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them -- all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket is weak on the major realities. But it is strong on the symbolic dimension of politics that Republicans are so good at marketing. Just arguing the realities, the issues, the hard truths should be enough in times this bad, but the political mind and its response to symbolism cannot be ignored. The initial Democratic response to Palin -- the response based on realities alone -- indicates that many Democrats have not learned the lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.

(Click here for the full article.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NCSU Workshop on Communicating Health and Safety Risks on Emerging Technologies

NC State press release:

NCSU Workshop:

Communicating Health and Safety Risks on Emerging Technologies in the 21st Century

McKimmon Center, North Carolina State University
, NC
August 28-29, 2008

This workshop is designed to review some findings and develop the ground plan to complete the award (NIRT: Intuitive Toxicology and Public Engagement) in an efficient and productive manner. After the workshop, the presentations will be re-examined to help define variables needed in the first round of quantitative research funded under the grant (a set of modified Delphi rounds involving expert and inexpert samples).

“The primary objectives of this workshop are to isolate the key variables and to produce appropriate instruments with which we can assess public perceptions of the risks of applied nanosciences. The workshop should also provide us with a clearer picture of the predictions of experts, based on the most recent research, of how the public perceives risks and how different modes of communication affect those perceptions.”

We have designed the workshop with presentations in Raleigh at NCSU McKimmon Center and others from remote locations via the web. We are webcasting the entire workshop and we are streaming selected portions from our website as deliverables. Below is the schedule of speakers. Some titles remain in flux but this seems to be the team with whom we will work. Our web site is: http://communication.chass.ncsu.edu/nirt/Home.html

Workshop Schedule

“Communicating Health and Safety Risks on
Emerging Technologies in the 21st Century”

McKimmon Center, North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC August 28-29, 2008

Transportation will be provided to and from the Clarion Hotel (2 miles away).

Day One, Thursday, August 28, 2008.

I. Introduction and welcome – David Berube, NCSU (13:00-13:10).

II. Risks and Publics.

a. Keynote Speaker — Lennart Sjöberg, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden (13:15-14:00).

b. Panels (14:05 -16:00) –

i. (WebConf) Susanna Priest, UNLV, TBA.

ii. Rob Goble, Clark U., “Uncertainty and risk communication concerning merging technologies: Describing uncertainties is not the only challenge.”

iii. Grant Gardner, doctoral student, NCSU, TBA.

III. Researching How Toxicology is Communicated to Publics.

a. Speaker – Dietram A. Scheufele, U Wisconsin (16:15-17:00).

b. Panel A (17:05 -19:00) –

i. John Stone, Michigan State U., Public perceptions of agrifood nanotechnologies: Using Extension to assess and link stakeholder knowledge with public policies.”

ii. Martin Clauberg, U. Tennessee, “A review of risk perception methodologies and empirical studies focused on risks from chemicals released from consumer products/articles.”

iii. Jennifer Kuzma, U Minn, “At taxonomy of risks and communication challenges.”

Day Two, Friday, August 29, 2008.

IV. Morning food and coffee (09:00).

V. Nano-toxicology and Risk.

a. Speaker – Vicki Colvin, Rice University (09:30-10:15).

b. Panels (10:20-12:20) –

i. Tara Sabo-Attwood, Dept of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, U. South Carolina, TBA

ii. James Bonner, Dept of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, NCSU, TBA.

iii. Mark Weisner, Dept of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke U., TBA

VI. Lunch break – provided by workshop.

VII. Risk Engagement and the Public.

a. Speaker – Pat Gehrke, U. South Carolina (13:20-14:15).

b. Panels (14:20-16:35) –

i. (WebConf) Kenneth Foster, Dept of Bioengineering, U. Penn., “Risk assessment and risk communication for electromagnetic fields: A WHO perspective”.

ii. Roy Schwartzman, Dept of Communication, UNC – Greensboro, Nanotoxicartography: Rhetorically mapping public engagement with nanotechnology’s promises and perils.”

iii. (WebConf) Sharon Friedman & Brenda Egolf, Lehigh U., “Coverage of Nanotechnology’s Potential Health and Environmental Risks in the US and UK Media.”

iv. Kevin Elliott and Travis Reider, Dept. of Philosophy, USC, “Philosophical Debates about Policy Making and Public Perceptions of Risk: Roles for Empirical Research."

VIII. Challenges in Emerging Technologies.

a. Speaker – William Kinsella, Dept of Communication, Science and Technology Studies, North Carolina State U. (16:40-17:15).

If you have any questions, please contact us: Katie Hayes krhayes@ncsu.edu (Workshop Admin. Asst.), Christopher Cummings christopherlcummings@hotmail.com (Grant Admin. Asst.), or David Berube dmberube@ncsu.edu (Grant PI).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Askmen.com on the top-5 facts you didn't know about nanotechnology

What do Howard Stern, the Cold War, escorts, and nanotechnology have in common? They all made Askmen.com's "5 things you don't know about ..." column. And I am obviously particularly flattered that some CNS-ASU research we presented at AAAS this spring was listed as the #1 fact you don't know about nano:

"A recent study conducted out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that out of 1,015 adult Americans polled, only 29.5% agreed that nanotechnology was morally acceptable. In stark contrast 54.1% of Brits, 62.7% of Germans and 72.1% of French survey participants found the technology acceptable."

(Click here for the full column.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Public outreach done right? New NRC report

The National Research Council's Panel on Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making just released their summary report on how to conduct successful public outreach on science and technology.
[The report] assesses whether, and under what conditions, public participation achieves the outcomes desired. Claims from all sides are considered and evaluated as a central point of the study, in order to provide an overall assessment of the merits and failings of participation. The book also offers guidance to practitioners and identifies directions for further research."

(Click here for the full report.)
See also a short article from the NY Times on the new report:
"The council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced the report (“Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making,” at http://national-academies.org) at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of energy and agriculture. [Committee chair] Dr. Dietz said it aims to draw together an abundance of new research on what he calls “the melding together of science and democracy” and to offer guidance for agencies beginning public outreach."
What is most interesting, maybe, is the fact that the committee roster did not include a single communication scholar. Communication as an academic discipline, of course, has provided decades of research on how strategic communication and public outreach can work hand in hand to encourage and inform public participation. And the effectiveness of many previous engagement efforts was in fact compromised precisely because organizers did not understand the mass and opinion dynamics that often contaminate or crowd out well-meaning outreach efforts.

2009 U.S. News Rankings: Wisconsin #35

U.S. News & World Report just released their rankings for 2009, which have UW-Madison tied for 35th among all public and private universities (up from 38th last year) and seventh among public institutions.

(Click here for the full report.)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Let's talk engineering - new NAE report on communicating about (careers in) engineering

The National Academy of Engineering just released a new report on the challenge of communicating with hard-to-reach audiences about careers in science. And the report is a case study on how to do it right: do careful social science research, learn to understand all your different audiences, and then develop your communication strategies based on the issues or concerns they tell you they really care about.
From the NAE summary:

Can the United States continue to lead the world in innovation? The answer may hinge in part on how well the public understands engineering, a key component of the innovation engine. A related concern is how to encourage young people particularly girls and under-represented minorities to consider engineering as a career option.

Changing the Conversation provides actionable strategies and market-tested messages for presenting a richer, more positive image of engineering. This book presents and discusses in detail market research about what the public finds most appealing about engineering as well as what turns the public off.

Changing the Conversation is a vital tool for improving the public image of engineering and outreach efforts related to engineering. It will be used by engineers in professional and academic settings including informal learning environments (such as museums and science centers), engineering schools, national engineering societies, technology-based corporations that support education and other outreach to schools and communities, and federal and state agencies and labs that do or promote engineering, technology, and science.
And my commentary, of course, is compromised by all the conflicts of interest that come with me also being a member of NAE's Committee on Public Understanding of Engineering Messages that helped produce the report.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Why information often doesn't matter ...

Our latest study on stem cell attitudes in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research highlights -- once again -- the importance of value predispositions and religiosity for the formation of attitudes about science. It's not just that religiosity is linked to stem cell attitudes directly, which is correct, but neither novel nor too surprising. The important finding -- among others -- is that religiosity can determine if citizens use all the information they have about science when judging issues like stem cell research (see figure below).

Here's a copy of the UW press release on our study:

June 5, 2008

by Nicole Miller

When forming attitudes about embryonic stem cell research, people are influenced by a number of things. But understanding science plays a negligible role for many people.

That's the surprising finding from a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison communications researchers who have spent the past two years studying public attitudes toward embryonic stem cell research. Reporting in the most recent issue of the International Journal of Public Opinion, the researchers say that scientific knowledge — for many citizens — has an almost negligible effect on how favorably people regard the field.

"More knowledge is good — everybody is on the same page about that. But will that knowledge necessarily help build support for the science?" says Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison professor of life sciences communication and one of the paper's three authors. "The data show that no, it doesn't. It does for some groups, but definitely not for others."

Along with Dominique Brossard, a UW-Madison professor of journalism and mass communication, and graduate student Shirley Ho, Scheufele used national public opinion research to analyze how public attitudes are formed about controversial scientific issues such as nanotechnology and stem cells. What they have found again and again is that knowledge is much less important than other factors, such as religious values or deference to scientific authority.

In the case of stem cells, values turn out to be key, says Scheufele. For respondents who reported that religion played a strong role in their lives, scientific knowledge had no effect on their attitudes toward stem cell research. But for those who claimed to be less religious, understanding the science was linked to more positive views of the research.

"Highly religious audiences are different from less religious audiences. They are looking for different things, bringing different things to the table," explains Scheufele. "It is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information. In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support. And that's not good or bad. That's just what the data show."

On the other hand, a value system held by a much smaller portion of the American public works in just the opposite direction. The attitudes of individuals who are deferential to science — who tend to trust scientists and their work — are influenced by their level of scientific understanding.

Overall, says Brossard, "more understanding doesn't always change attitudes. A lot depends on people's values. And those values need to be considered carefully when we communicate with the public about these issues."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Change we can believe in" vs. "the science of denial"

Media and politics meet science again ... and probably not for the last time during this election cycle. In his victory speech in Minneapolis, MN last night, Barack Obama call for a renewed "commitment to science and innovation."

This stands in stark contrast to a New York Times editorial today criticizing the current administration for working "overtime to manipulate or conceal scientific evidence" and for placing political appointees in NASA's public affairs office "that ... presented information about global warming 'in a manner that reduced, marginalized or mischaracterized climate-change science made available to the general public.'"

(Click here for the full editorial.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nano and asbestos? A closer look from ICON ...

to nanopublic post from 5/20/08:

ICON at Rice University has produced an excellent background document, discussing the methodologies and adequate interpretations of the two studies comparing responses in mice to multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT or MWNT) and certain asbestos fibers

Here's the section from the ICON report on interpreting the results :
"These studies do not address whether humans may be exposed to MWCNT in a way that causes disease. While more research is needed to understand the potential implications of this work for human health, the two studies taken together point to the need for a careful assessment of the potential for MWCNT to cause injury to humans. The many outstanding questions that these papers raise include

* How dose is measured for MWCNT and what constitutes an appropriate dose in mice to correlate with human risk;
* The role of metals within the nanotube samples. (The Nature Nanotechnology study found that metals derived from the MWCNT could not explain the different effects of exposure to long straight vs. short tangled MWCNT. The J. Tox. Sci. study did not rule out the iron contaminant within the MWCNT samples as the agent responsible for promoting the formation of the cancerous lesions.)
* Whether short, tangled MWCNT, which are non-fibrous, have a toxic effect unrelated to effects associated with exposure to fiber-like particles;
* Whether MWCNT can persist long enough in the body and migrate to the mesothelium to induce the effects seen here in mice;
* Whether humans can be exposed to MWCNT in quantities sufficient to induce the effect seen here in mice.

Despite these caveats both groups of authors believe that their findings are important for understanding the potential hazards of MWCNT and should inform industrial risk management practices so that exposure to humans is limited. As they note, without exposure there is no risk, even if the substance is very hazardous."
(Click here for Kristen Kulinowski's full report.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

First nano newswave: Of mice, nano, and asbestos

Nanotech may soon have its very own Losey butterfly study. Tomorrow morning will bring the first substantive wave of mainstream news coverage focusing on nano risks. The trigger? A forthcoming letter in Nature Nanotechnology, comparing the health risks of some carbon nanotubes to those of asbestos. The "nano as the next asbestos" analogies are not new, of course, but the Nature Nanotech study is one of the first to back the news frames with peer-reviewed science.

See relevant coverage in the today's late editions or tomorrow's early editions of the the Financial Times, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Sights Unseen:" Vegan soup and nano visuals

UW-Madison press release:

In May, 14 striking, larger-than-life photographic prints that are both comfortingly organic and starkly abstract will enable patrons of Mother Fool's Coffeehouse in Madison to visualize a scientific world that's rarely seen outside the laboratory.

"Sights Unseen: Images of the Nanoscale" is an art exhibit featuring research images captured by faculty, staff and students in UW-Madison's National Science Foundation-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center on Nanostructured Interfaces and the NSF-funded Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center. The exhibit runs throughout May, with an opening reception from 7-9 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, at the coffeehouse, 1101 Williamson St.

Nanotechnology is a new area in science and engineering that deals with incredibly small materials. These materials are on the scale of nanometers, a billion of a meter. (A one-gallon can of paint, painted one nanometer thick, would cover the entire UW-Madison campus.)

Materials at this super-small scale can behave in new ways. For example, nanoscale gold is red, and nanoscale aluminum spontaneously combusts. Scientists and engineers hope to use these unique properties in new and improved applications, ranging from faster computers to cancer-fighting medical treatments.

The pictures in the "Sights Unseen" exhibit bring this super-small world into the limelight by showcasing its beauty. Among the images are black-and-white nano-sized rods that look like massive trees toppled by a strong wind, and a computer-generated representation of data that resembles psychedelic posters from the '70s.

Mother Fools Coffeehouse's hours are 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-11 p.m. weekends.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Plastic or asbestos? Nano goes mainstream

PBS will air the first installment of their three-part series "Nanotechnology: The power of small" on April 2, 2008 (for an overview, see Mike Treder's post at Responsible Nanotechnology). And as far as a discussion of potential risks go, the program touches upon all the issues that our recent survey-based work identified as main concerns for the public (i.e., privacy) and for nano scientists (i.e., human health concerns and environmental risks).
"The series’ three programs explore critical questions about nanotechnology’s potential impact on privacy, the environment and human health: Will nanotechnology make you safer, or will it be used to track your every move? Will nanotechnology keep you young, and what happens if you live to be 150? Will nanotechnology help clean up the earth, or will it be the next asbestos?"

(Click here for the premiere event at the Project for Emerging Nanotechnologies.)
The program also sets the stage for the inevitable battle over the dominant frames in the emerging public debate about nanotechnology. Will it be the next asbestos or the next plastic? Is the right to privacy incompatible with the right to live and to find new cures for diseases? And what are the ethical concerns connected with pushing the envelope in terms of what is scientifically possible?

From the trailer, it seems that the the series gives short shrift to a key part of the equation: systematic, large-scale research that deals with what the public actually is concerned about, the potential benefits that citizens do see in the new technology, or potential informational gaps among different groups of the public and the role that media have played so far in (not) closing these gaps. Ironically, understanding how this debate does in fact influence or involve the public seems to be an afterthought at best for Public Broadcasting.
"The series begins airing on local public broadcasting stations in April 2008. [...] It is funded by NSF and the presenting station and grantee for the series is Oregon Public Broadcasting. The series is a “Fred Friendly Seminars” presentation with award-winning National Public Radio correspondent John Hockenberry as host."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nanosilver is back in the news ... and off the shelves, for now

From tomorrow's New York Times:
New Device for Germophobes Runs Into Old Law


With so many people worried about getting sick — whether from the common cold and flu or exotic new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — Paul and Jeffrey Metzger had every reason to hope that the germ-fighting key fob they invented would be a runaway hit.

Their device, known as the Handler, began selling last year online and in stores like Duane Reade pharmacies for about $11. It features a pop-out hook so germophobes can avoid touching A.T.M. keypads, door handles and other public surfaces where undesirable microbes may lurk. As added protection, the Handler’s rubber and plastic surfaces are impregnated with tiny particles of silver to kill germs that land on the device itself.

But those little silver particles have run Maker Enterprises, the Metzger brothers’ partnership in Los Angeles, into a big regulatory thicket. The Metzgers belatedly realized that the Environmental Protection Agency might decide that a 1947-era law that regulates pesticides would apply to antimicrobial products like theirs. The agency ruled last fall that the law covered Samsung’s Silvercare washing machine. Samsung was told it would have to register the machine as a pesticide, a potentially costly and time-consuming process, because the company claims the silver ions generated by the washer kill bacteria in the laundry.

(Read the full article here.)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Environmental, Health and Safety Aspects of Nanotechnology: A Workshop for Reporters

UW announcement on
nano workshop for journalists:
The Big Picture on Small Things:
Exploring nanotechnology’s benefits and risks when communicating with the public

When: July 20–22, 2008

Where: University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI

Nanotechnology is everywhere today in consumer products, emerging medicines and scientific research. Which advances will change our lives the most? What role will regulation play as the field develops? And how can journalists best convey both the promise and potential risks of this emerging technology?

Journalists interested in exploring these and other questions about nanotechnology’s larger issues are invited to apply for a two-and-a-half day course in Madison, Wisconsin:

Environmental, Health and Safety Aspects of Nanotechnology: A Workshop for Reporters.

Sponsored by the UW–Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center on Nanostructured Interfaces and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the program will consist of seminars, panel presentations, laboratory tours, hands-on activities and a trip to a local nanotech startup company.

Anticipated speakers and topics include:

• Environmental impacts of nanotechnology: The EPA perspective

• Media’s role in forming public opinion on emerging technologies

• Consumer health benefits and risks

• Occupational safety and nanotechnology

• Regulating nanotechnology at the state level

Attendees will be chosen on a competitive basis. Each will receive a fellowship, covering all travel and lodging expenses, through the support of the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment.

To apply, send a cover letter, résumé or CV, and writing sample to baldwin8@cae.wisc.edu.

For more information: Visit http://mrsec.wisc.edu/Edetc/reporters2008/

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Religion and nano … what the data show

Following up on some of the recent coverage of our AAAS presentation and press briefing (see, for example here, here, and here), let me provide a few pieces of background info. As part of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University we’ve been collecting survey data since 2004 now on public attitudes toward and awareness of nanotechnology. These data allow us to make comparisons over time using nationally representative samples and stable measures.

In our most recent iteration, we also designed a battery of questions to parallel the wording of questions in the 64.3 Eurobarometer surveys about public attitudes toward nanotechnology. This provides us with data from over 30 countries on attitudes toward nanotechnology and nano regulations.

First comparisons showed many similarities between the U.S. and key players in Europe (see Figure 1). There was, however, one difference between Europe and the U.S. And that was that respondents in the U.S. were significantly less likely to agree that “nanotechnology is morally acceptable.” At first glance, of course, this finding seems somewhat puzzling. Why would consumers and citizens have moral qualms about a technology they know little about?

Figure 1: Nano attitudes in the U.S. and Europe

(Scheufele, D. A. (2008, February). Engaging religious audiences on nanotechnology. Presented to the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, MA.)

In order to make more sense of this finding, we also looked at the World Values Survey, an extremely rich data set with data from over 75 countries on religious views, values, media use, demographics and other variables. And the pattern was not surprising. On a ten-point scale, U.S. respondents scored between 8 and 9 on average when indicating how much guidance god provided in their daily lives. European respondents in Germany, France, and the U.K., in contrast, consistently scored below 5.

And these differences are at least consistent with the idea that religiosity may play more of a role among the U.S. public than European audiences when it comes to nanotechnology. At the same time, however, comparing aggregate level data from different data sources can suggest a potential explanation, but provides no conclusive evidence. Some of that individual-level data, however, can be found in a forthcoming study conducted by colleagues of mine at Wisconsin and myself, examining the role of religiosity in moderating the impact of risk/benefit perceptions on nano attitudes.

And the influences we found in that study of religiosity on attitudes toward nanotech in the U.S. were very interesting. First, our data showed a weak link between religiosity and attitudes toward nanotech and nano funding. And that most likely reflects a general reservation toward science among religious respondents. More importantly, however, our data showed that religiosity also serves as an important "filter" for certain publics when they make sense of nano. I have written about this idea before:

Scheufele, D. A. (2006). Messages and heuristics: How audiences form attitudes about emerging technologies. In J. Turney (Ed.), Engaging science: Thoughts, deeds, analysis and action (pp. 20-25). London: The Wellcome Trust.

And again, 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 benefit perceptions and attitudes that varies depending on respondents' levels of religiosity. In other words, seeing the benefits of nanotechnology is consistently linked to more positive attitudes ... at least among less religious respondents. For more religious respondents, in contrast, that effect is significantly weaker, and seeing the benefits of nano does not necessarily translate into support for the technology or future funding (see Figure 2).

(Based on more complex multivariate models, outlined in 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 articles show, fitting the moral implications of nano breakthroughs into their existing belief or value systems is much more important for some groups in society at the moment than understanding the science behind it.

(For media coverage of this story, see ABCnews.com. BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Capital Times, Wired, Science Daily, and other reactions from the blogosphere.)