An article this past weekend on Nanowerk reports on a study about attitudes toward regulation of nanotechnology among nanoscientists and the general public:
As reported in the online version of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research today (June 19), Scheufele and Corley found that the public tends to focus on the benefits — rather than potential environmental and health risks — when making decisions about nanotechnology regulation, whereas scientists mainly focus on potential risks and economic values.
“We think that nanoscientists view regulations as protections for the public, and that’s part of the reason why they focus on the potential risks,” says Corley, the Lincoln Professor of Public Policy, Ethics and Emerging Technologies in ASU’s School of Public Affairs. “On the other hand, the public seems to think of nanotechnology regulations as restricting their access to new products and other beneficial aspects of nanotechnology.”
According to the study, leading U.S. nanoscientists believe regulations are most urgently needed in the areas of surveillance and privacy, human enhancement, medicine and the environment. At the same time, this group feels that other areas, including machines and computers, have little need for further regulation.
Confounding the study, of course, or any study like this, would be the fact that what the researchers are calling “nanotechnology” and what the public thinks it is are two different things. And of course anyone writing in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research is likely to be about as far from a notion of nanomachines, even nanoelectronics with no moving parts, as anyone in the field.
To my mind, this is just another piece of evidence that the word nanotechnology has broadened to the point where it is more a hindrance than a help in understanding what’s really going on and how the future of technology may develop.