Nanotech Impacts Worry Scientists

"Scientists aren't saying there are problems," says the study's lead author Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of life sciences communication and journalism. "They're saying, 'we don't know. The research hasn't been done.'"

The findings based on a national telephone survey of American households and a sampling of 363 leading U.S. nanotechnology scientists and engineers are in stark contrast to controversies sparked by the advent of technologies of the past such as nuclear power and genetically modified foods, which scientists perceived as having lower risks than did the public.

At the root of the information disconnect, explains Scheufele, who conducted the survey with Elizabeth Corley at Arizona State University, is that nanotechnology is only now starting to emerge on the nation's policy agenda. Amplifying the problem is that the news media have paid scant attention to nanotechnology and its implications.

"Nanotechnology is starting to emerge on the policy agenda, but with the public, it's not on their radar," says Scheufele. "That's where we have the largest communication gap."

While scientists were generally optimistic about the potential benefits of nanotechnology, they expressed significantly more concern about pollution and new health problems related to the technology. Potential health problems were in fact the highest rated concern among scientists, Scheufele notes.

Twenty percent of the scientists responding to the survey indicated a concern that new forms of nanotechnology pollution may emerge, while only 15 percent of the public thought that might be a problem. More than 30 percent of scientists expressed concern that human health may be at risk from the technology, while just 20 percent of the public held such fears.; Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison