Nanotech Database

Article Title:
The North American opinion climate for nanotechnology and its products: Opportunities and challenges.

Priest, Susanna

Journal Information:
Journal of Nanoparticle Research
Vol. 8, Num. 5


Priest reports on a January 2005 telephone survey of 1200 people in the U.S. and 2000 Canadians. It "provides a snapshot" of current North American opinion on a range of emerging technologies, and allows a closer focus on nanotechnology and biotechnology in their early stages. Priest discusses the problems of telephone surveys (reponse rates and quality of response)and says that her study uses telephone surveys to unearth group responses rather than make an "absolute measure of opinion."

Earlier surveys done in the UK in a face-to-face poll showed that understanding of nanotechnology was limited (only 19% could define it), those who did understand the subject generally were positive. The US and Canadian numbers were a bit higher as regards familiarity and feeling positive about nanotechnology.

"The comparison of key results from the two countries helps illustrate how social and cultural differences contribute to reactions to new technologies, including nanotech," says Priest. Public opinion rises from about five distinct groups, which Priest calls "true believers," "utilitarians," "moral authoritarians," "ethical populists," and "democratic pragmatists." There is a larger group in the US predisposed to be welcoming of any new technology than exists in Canada. On the whole, Priest argues many people have not yet made up their minds, and "this finding should underscore the importance of paying serious attention to what people want, to the way that they evaluate risks and benefits, and to their ethical concerns."