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Public attitudes to new technology: Lessons for regulators
Date:9/21/2009

(Santa Barbara, California) New technologies may change our lives for the better, but sometimes they have risks. Communicating those benefits and risks to the public, and developing regulations to deal with them, can be difficult particularly if there's already public opposition to the technology.

A new study that provides an overview of research on public perceptions of nanotechnology technology on a very, very small scale challenges some current ideas of how people view the risks and benefits of new technology. The work has implications for how policymakers talk about and regulate new technologies.

Public views on nanotechnology, which could revolutionize medicine, electronics and energy technology, but has possible health and environmental risks, are overwhelmingly favorable, the study found. However many people hadn't heard of nanotechnology, and nearly half those surveyed in North America, Europe and Japan weren't sure what they thought of it. It's reassuring that those people haven't made hasty judgments, the authors say, but that means that bungled attempts to educate the public about nanotechnology, or to regulate it, could turn public opinion against this promising technology.

"If you only talk about benefits it doesn't mean the public will buy the product and everyone lives happily ever after. We know that is not a good scenario," says Barbara Herr Harthorn, Director and Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation-funding Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California, Santa Barbara (CNS-UCSB).

Harthorn is one of the authors of a study "Anticipating the perceived risk of nanotechnologies" appearing online Sept. 20 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. It is based on data from 22 surveys conducted over the last decade.

Previous studies have found that new and unknown technologies such as biotechnology tend to be regarded as risky, but that's not the case for n
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Contact: Barbara Herr Harthorn
harthorn@cns.ucsb.edu
805-893-3350
University of California - Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert

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