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Public still sensible about nanotechnology

Public attitudes toward nanotechnology are being tracked closely — perhaps more closely than for any previous set of newly-arriving technologies. The surveys vary a bit, but here’s one by Prof. Steven Currall of University College London that fits my informal observations:

One core finding of our research revealed that current public sentiment towards nanotechnology is relatively neutral. It was perceived to be riskier and less beneficial than other technologies, such as solar power and vaccinations, but more beneficial and less risky than pesticides, chemical disinfectants, and alcoholic drinks, for example.

As public awareness increases, consumers will begin to shift their sentiments toward nanotechnology, ultimately influencing its general acceptance (or rejection) within society. Research has already shown that as people learn more about nanotechnology, their attitudes tend to become more positive…

Based on our findings, we question an assumption by many of our science and engineering colleagues that the public thinks about nanotechnology applications only in terms of possible risks. To the contrary, our results showed that public perceptions of nanotechnology weren’t as simple as previously assumed—risks and benefits are both enmeshed in a complex decision-making calculus.

In essence, the public engages in a tradeoff of risks and benefits. The perceived level of risks depends on the extent of benefits and vice-versa. The upshot is that when deciding whether or not to use a product, consumers are quite sophisticated in weighing risks and benefits.

This makes sense. Many consumer products now in use have risks as well as benefits, and somehow we muddle through. —Christine

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