Recently, there has been growing interest in, and calls for, increased social science involvement in the assessment of emerging technologies, including nanotechnology (Shapira, Youtie, & Porter, 2010). However, we still know little of how leading nanoscientists form regulatory attitudes about the technology and view the communication of research findings with the public. Moreover, there are – to our knowledge – no studies exploring the extent to which the opinions expressed by nanoscientists in public opinion surveys match their actual practices.

To address these issues, we have combined an opinion survey of leading U.S. nanoscientists with data of these same scientists’ environmental health and safety (EHS) publication records. Our analysis confirms that nanoscientists with EHS publications are generally more in favor of revised nano regulations. Given the absence of a precautionary principle in the U.S., we speculate that people working and publishing in EHS areas may feel the need to serve as watchdogs for the nanotech industry, and view EHS publications as one means of doing so. Second, there is strong evidence that more liberal scientists see a greater need for new nano regulations. This relationship holds even after controlling for factors, such as trust in regulatory agencies and perceptions of risks and benefits. This suggests that, much like ordinary citizens, ideology is one of the heuristics that scientists rely upon when forming regulatory stances (Scheufele, 2006).

Perhaps most importantly, our analysis reveals several significant predictors of nanoscientists’ attitudes toward the immediate communication of scientific findings with the public. First, we find that it is the newer scientists – those who have held their PhD’s for a shorter period of time – who see a greater need for immediate communication with the public. This may be illustrative of the steady rise in formal communication training opportunities for scientists and recognition within the field of the importance of scientist-journalist interactions on public perceptions of science. Second, we find that perceptions of risks and EHS publication record are strong and positive predictors of nanoscientists’ attitudes toward immediate communication. These relationships suggest avenues for risk information to make its way into public discourse surrounding nanotechnology and is the focal point of our study.

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Practicing what they preach?
Comparing the self-reported attitudes of nanoscientists with their ehs publication records

Dietram Scheufele   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Michael Cacciatore   University of Wisconsin-Madison

Elizabeth Corley   Arizona St. University

Philip Shapira   Georgia Institute of Technology

Jan Youtie   Georgia Institute of Technology

Recently, there has been growing interest in, and calls for, increased social science involvement in the assessment of emerging technologies, including nanotechnology (Shapira, Youtie, & Porter, 2010). However, we still know little of how leading nanoscientists form regulatory attitudes about the technology and view the communication of research findings with the public. Moreover, there are – to our knowledge – no studies exploring the extent to which the opinions expressed by nanoscientists in public opinion surveys match their actual practices.

To address these issues, we have combined an opinion survey of leading U.S. nanoscientists with data of these same scientists’ environmental health and safety (EHS) publication records. Our analysis confirms that nanoscientists with EHS publications are generally more in favor of revised nano regulations. Given the absence of a precautionary principle in the U.S., we speculate that people working and publishing in EHS areas may feel the need to serve as watchdogs for the nanotech industry, and view EHS publications as one means of doing so. Second, there is strong evidence that more liberal scientists see a greater need for new nano regulations. This relationship holds even after controlling for factors, such as trust in regulatory agencies and perceptions of risks and benefits. This suggests that, much like ordinary citizens, ideology is one of the heuristics that scientists rely upon when forming regulatory stances (Scheufele, 2006).

Perhaps most importantly, our analysis reveals several significant predictors of nanoscientists’ attitudes toward the immediate communication of scientific findings with the public. First, we find that it is the newer scientists – those who have held their PhD’s for a shorter period of time – who see a greater need for immediate communication with the public. This may be illustrative of the steady rise in formal communication training opportunities for scientists and recognition within the field of the importance of scientist-journalist interactions on public perceptions of science. Second, we find that perceptions of risks and EHS publication record are strong and positive predictors of nanoscientists’ attitudes toward immediate communication. These relationships suggest avenues for risk information to make its way into public discourse surrounding nanotechnology and is the focal point of our study.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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