NSF Gives $1.4 million Grant to Study Peopleâ¿¿s Preconceived Notions on Nanotechnology

Depending on which scientific toxicological paper you read, you may discover that nanoparticles are toxic, or they arenâ''t at all. Even if youâ''re a scientist, sorting out the data on the toxicity of nanoparticles is no easy matter.

But you can be sure that the general public is not going to sit down to a nice read of the latest issue of Applied Toxicology to find its answer on nanotechnology: Pro or Con.

They will make the decision based on the same foundation they make most of their decisionsâ'¿well no foundation at all unless you call uninformed, knee-jerk reactions a foundation.

But to the rescue is a new study that is aimed at getting to the bottom of how people use their biases to determine whether something is safe. According to the recipient of the NSF research grant, Dr. David Berube, the project will focus on how the public interprets information about the potential health risks of nanotechnology.

The four-year, $1.4-million research project should produce a fascinating read when completed. Letâ''s see, maybe something like, â''Corporations are killing us, corporations make nanotechnology, nanotechnology is killing us.â''

Without a doubt, people develop entire world-views without the slightest bit of evidence or proof, and the same will likely happen with nanotechnology.

But one could argue that at this point we donâ''t even have the scientists quite sure on whether nanoparticles are toxic or not. Maybe funding into getting a better handle on the science, like some agreed upon standards and testing, would be more beneficial at this point then developing strategies for how scientists should communicate the findings to John Q. Public.


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.