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Nanotechnology: People hear what they want to hear

A recent study by Yale Law School on how people’s views on nanotechnology change when they learn more information found that people seem to use whatever they are told to reinforce what they expect to hear. See the graph and analysis on this page:

There were even more dramatic differences in the reactions of subgroups of subjects defined in terms of their values. The theory of “cultural cognition” posits that individuals process information in a way that reflects and reinforces their general preferences about how society should be organized. Egalitarians and communitarians, for example, tend to be sensitive to claims of environmental and technological risks because ameliorating such risks justifies regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize unconstrained pursuit of self-interest. Individualists, in contrast, tend to be skeptical about such risks, in line with their concern to ward off contraction of the sphere of individual initiative. So do hierarchists, who tend to see assertions of environmental technological risks as challenging the competence of governmental and social elites. Whereas subjects who subscribed to these various worldviews did not have markedly different attitudes in the “no information” group, those in the “information exposure” group divided along exactly these lines.

Well. that’s depressing, but not too surprising, I suppose. And which group’s views are more accurate: the individualists, the hierarchs, the egalitarians, or the communitarians?

On the bright side, before given additional information, 53% overall said the benefits outweight the risks, while only 36% said the opposite. Oddly, on this same page, the views of Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives are all pretty close. —Christine

One Response to “Nanotechnology: People hear what they want to hear”

  1. Jeremy Dombroski Says:

    With only 5% of the respondents claiming to know ‘a lot’ about Nanotech, the rest of the study results seem to just indicate that people will have an opinion on just about anything.

    The most useful information I can see here is that people don’t know what the heck Nanotech is, and are probably basing their opinions on rumors and movies.

    With that kind of foundation, opinions can easily be shifted by those with an agenda(either way) through purely emotional appeals. (Especially during an election year…)

    Seems we need to start K through 12 Nanotech education initiatives really quick before we get left behind. Well… even further behind than we are now…

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