Americans Know Little about Nanotechnology and Less about Synthetic Biology

I am beginning to think that the Project on Emerging Technology gets some pleasure in demonstrating how ill informed US citizens are about subjects outside the scope of Britney Spearâ''s marital woes.

They have just released another poll, as they did last year, that indicates that Americans (North Americans, I presume) donâ''t know much about nanotechnology, and this year seem to know even less about synthetic biology.

This year the news reports didnâ''t come with penetrating, albeit condescending, insights such as people with less education were less likely to know about nanotechnology than those with advanced educations. But it did manage to come with foreboding tales as it did last year with the concept of â''backlashâ''.

This time around the scary scenario will be of the next presidential administration being called upon to make decisions about synthetic forms of life.

One of these days, when I have some extra cash, I am going to commission one of these polling companies to do a survey that lists every policy issue that will impact everyone and find out the degree to which people actually know the subject. I am betting that on everything from healthcare to taxes that fewer than 50% will have any idea about the subject.

Should we be alarmed? Definitely, yes. An uniformed electorate is the Achilles Heel of democracy. But I am not terribly worried that 90% of people in the US donâ''t know about synbio. However, it does get me a tad nervous that nearly 60% of Americans canâ''t name a single Supreme Court judge.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.