Friday, May 07, 2010

what people think when they think about nano ... and what role google may play in all of this

When asked in U.S. public opinion surveys which topics or applications they connect with nanotechnology, almost nine out of 10 members of the lay public mention the medical field as one of these connections.
(Based on: Cacciatore, M. A., Scheufele, D. A., & Corley, E. A. (forthcoming). From enabling technology to applications: The evolution of risk perceptions about nanotechnology. Public Understanding of Science. doi: 10.1177/0963662509347815

This is somewhat surprising, for at least two reasons. First, systematic analyses of newspaper coverage of nanotechnology in the U.S. show health-related topics as one of the dominant areas emerging for nanotechnology.
(Based on: Dudo, A., Dunwoody, S., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009, August). The emergence of nano news: tracking thematic trends and changes in media coverage of nanotechnology. Paper presented at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication, Boston, MA.)
More importantly, however, some of our more recent work in Materials Today -- conducted as part of the Societal Implications Group of the UW Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center on Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale -- suggests that news users' increasing reliance on online sources for science information may explain much more about lay publics' reactions when they think about nanotechnology.

From the paper:
"When searching Google for information about nanotechnology, citizens are likely to encounter health-related content, either through suggested search terms or through the search results provided by Google. This pattern was pervasive across different areas of application, i.e., even for searches not directly related to health. Several non-health searches had more health-related keywords per link than any other domain when averaged over the time period of our study.
This raises serious questions about the delivery and social value of scientific information delivered online.  Framing, while necessary to efficiently communicate complex information to lay audiences, influences people’s choices about an issue16.  It is reasonable to assume that search results that frame nanotechnology in a medical context will also be influencing people’s future searches, further reinforcing Google suggestions and website rankings that are at least partially based on previous searches and indexed web pages. This may create a self-reinforcing spiral that cements a link between health and nanotechnology in online news environments, and reduces the complexity and detail of the information that citizens are likely to encounter online."