Who’s worrying about nanotechnology risks?

The Editorial in the December issue of Nature Nanotechnology , A little knowledge (Nature Nanotechnology 2, 731; 2007) acknowledges that communicating the risks and benefits associated with nanotechnology to the general public is more complex than researchers might have expected. According to surveys, one of which is published in the same issue of the journal, the public is not interested in the possible risks of the technology (despite Michael Crichton’s best efforts).

In their report, Scientists worry about some risks more than the public (Nature Nanotechnology 2, 732 – 734; 2007), Dietram A. Scheufele et al. compare two recent US surveys among nanoscientists and the general public, concluding that “in general, nanoscientists are more optimistic than the public about the potential benefits of nanotechnology. However, for some issues related to the environmental and long-term health impacts of nanotechnology, nanoscientists were significantly more concerned than the public.”

One interesting conclusion of the research is that industry and academic scientists are among the very few groups the public trusts the most for information about nanotechnology — greater than government bodies, regulatory agencies and news media. The authors write: “Nanotechnology may, therefore, be one of the first emerging technologies where academia and business have the ability to reach out directly to a public who trusts the information they provide. Ironically, nanotechnology may also be the first emerging technology for which scientists may have to explain to that public why they should be more rather than less concerned about some potential risks.”


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