Why the big difference?
The answer, Scheufele believes, is religion: "The United States is a country where religion plays an important role in peoples' lives. The importance of religion in these different countries that shows up in data set after data set parallels exactly the differences we're seeing in terms of moral views. European countries have a much more secular perspective."
The catch for Americans with strong religious convictions, Scheufele believes, is that nanotechnology, biotechnology and stem cell research are lumped together as means to enhance human qualities. In short, researchers are viewed as "playing God" when they create materials that do not occur in nature, especially where nanotechnology and biotechnology intertwine, says Scheufele.
He conducted the U.S. survey with Arizona State University (ASU) colleague Elizabeth Corley under the auspices of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU.
The moral qualms people of faith express about nanotechnology is not a question of ignorance of the technology, says Scheufele, explaining that survey respondents are well-informed about nanotechnology and its potential benefits.
"They still oppose it," he says. "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."
The new study has critical implications for how experts explain the technology and its applications, Scheufele says. It means the scientific community needs to do a far better job of placing the technology in context and in understanding the attitudes of the American public.
|Contact: Dietram Scheufele|
University of Wisconsin-Madison