Americans Getting Dumber about Nanotechnology

In a country where nearly one-third of young Americans (18-24) couldnâ''t locate Louisiana on a map and nearly half were unable to identify Mississippi, should we really be surprised that the US population seems to know less about nanotechnology this year than they did last.

According to a poll commissioned by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, only 6 percent of Americans -- or fewer than one in 16 -- say they have "heard a lot" about nanotechnology, as compared with 10 percent in 2006.

If you donâ''t find that information terribly enlightening, the announcement of this poll came with the further blatantly obvious insight: â''Individuals with less education and lower incomes are least likely to have heard about nanotechnology.â''

I suppose this is supposed to heighten our awareness of the knowledge gap in nanotechnology, but it merely indicates to me that people who donâ''t have much education are likely not to know much about a whole range of subjects, like where the country of Iraq is on a map (thatâ''s 60% in the US).

The â''fear factorâ'' of this report is that if something bad happens with nanotechnology (such as some â''falseâ'' alarm about safety or health), then there could be a dramatic and unwarranted backlash against nanotechnology.

Yes, well, ignorance is a dangerous thing. But when people donâ''t read newspapers, or even watch the news on the boob tube, do you really expect that you are going to educate the masses on the complexities of nanotechnology?

I can hear the clarion cry now, â''Yes, but we must try.â'' I am almost tempted to say that we may be better off making sure that no one knows about nanotechnology, lest we suffer through the tedium and expense of trying to educate people who are so resistant to learning anything.

But that is the elitist in me, the pragmatist in me says, maybe we should abandon the â''Think Tankâ'' approach with the accompanying endless stream of White Papers that only people already in the know read.

Letâ''s get those American kids where they really pay attention: Video Games.

Hereâ''s one for you . Itâ''s not Doom, but itâ''s not supposed to be pure entertainment, itâ''s education in nanotechnology that is entertaining.

So, enough laments from white towers on how ill informed Americans are on nanotechnology, letâ''s try to engage young Americans in the way that they want to be engaged.


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