Hiding Risks Can Hurt Public Support

Photo: A hand ticking a field stating "yes"

At least this was valid among those people who have heard of nanotechnology. The survey also found that discussing risks decreased support among those people who had never previously heard of nanotechnology – but not by much. “The survey suggests that researchers, industries and policymakers should not be afraid to display the risks as well as the benefits of nanotechnology,” says Michael Cobb who conducted the survey.

The survey included 849 participants. One segment of participants was shown an image of an unrealistic illustration meant to represent a nanoscale medical device. A second segment was shown the image and given a “therapeutic” framing statement that described the technology as being able to restore an ill person to full health. A third segment was given the image, along with an “enhancement” framing statement that described the technology as being able to make humans faster, stronger and smarter. Two additional segments were given the image, the framing statements and information about potential health risks. And a final segment of participants was not given the image, a framing statement or risk information.

In addition to asking participants how much they supported the use of nanotechnology for human enhancements, they were also asked how beneficial and risky they thought these technologies would be, whether they were worried about not getting access to them, and who should pay for them – health insurance companies or individuals paying out-of-pocket. The potential enhancements addressed in the survey run the gamut from advanced cancer treatments to impart greater physical strength.

The survey found that describing the technology as therapeutic resulted in much greater public support. The therapeutic frame also resulted in increased support for health insurance coverage of nanotech treatments once they become available, and increased concerns that people wouldn’t be able to afford such treatments without insurance coverage.

“These findings suggest that researchers, policymakers and industries would be well advised to focus their research on developing therapeutic technologies, rather than enhancements, because that is the area with the greatest public support,” Cobb says.

COMPAMED.de; Source: North Carolina State University