Nautilus

Nature Nanotechnology on public attitudes and responses

The proportion of the public that knows about nanotechnology has reached a plateau, which means that it is now necessary to develop new approaches to explore public perceptions in greater detail than before, according to the November Editorial in Nature Nanotechnology (4, 695; 2009). The Editorial draws attention to “the publication of the first meta-analysis of survey data on public attitudes towards the risks and benefits associated with nanotechnology (see ”http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2009.265">page 752 of this issue). Terre Satterfield and colleagues looked at 22 publications reporting the results of surveys and found that the public response to nanotechnology has, so far, been different to the responses to previous new technologies in a number of ways. In particular, and contrary to expectations, unfamiliarity with nanotechnology is not strongly associated with risk aversion. The meta-analysis also reveals that twice as many people think that the benefits will outweigh risks as vice versa, but the authors caution that “a large minority of those surveyed (44%) is unsure, suggesting that risk judgments are highly malleable.” Satterfield and colleagues also call for the development of new methods to understand public responses to nanotechnologies. In an accompanying News & Views on page 705 Dan Kahan concludes that “the meta-analysis suggests that public attitudes toward nanotechnology remain open to the guidance of sound science, but that it would be a serious error to take such receptivity for granted.”…. It is important that the nanotechnology community — researchers, funders, regulators and others — continues to work hard to ensure that nano does not become the next GM, all the time accepting that there might always be new questions to answer and new challenges to address."

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