Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Reading nano: The public interest in nanotechnology as reflected in purchase patterns of books

Schummer, Joachim

Journal Information:
Public Understanding of Science
Vol. 14, Num. 2


Inspired by the work of Valdis Krebs, Joachim Schummer introduces a new way to analyze reading patterns, interests and informational tracks on nanotechnology. Through’s reading links (readers who bought…also bought…) he shows that there were (in 2005) a core of linked 34 nanotechnology which have two inner cores of 18 and 8 books each. The majority of books are futurology and business (Class II) with a minority (Class I) focused on science. Readers more or less stayed within these two major and minor topic clusters. Schummer argues that “[w]e currently have both a tremendous public interest in nanotechnology and a large supply of books on the market. It is doubtful, however, if this matching of supply and demand leads to a better public understanding of science and technology overall. The dominating supply of futurology books rather suggests that public ideas of science and technology become more removed fro the actual research and more identified with the readers’ personal hopes and fears, such as immortality, super-weapons, health, and wealth, all of which are the real topics of Class II books.” (175) He notes a few bridging authors purchased by readers in both communities, such as Ratner and Ratner’s Nanotechnology: A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea (2003) and William McCarthy, a journalist, systems engineers and science fiction writer. Schummer concludes that ‘for many readers, who do not have a purchase record of other science and technology books, nanotechnology seems to be the first field of science and technology in which they invest a considerable interest in buying a bunch of books.” (180) Of these books he says “the overwhelming majority (75 percent) are not about actual research, but about forecasting, about hopes and fears regarding future nanotechnology and about investment opportunities.” Moreover, he is concerned that readers in nanotechnology have far greater access to books making predictions about the future than to books giving a reasonable overview of the science of the present. “Because of the very small number of books that competently and comprehensibly introduce general readers to current and recent research, it is this futuristic literature of various qualities that shapes the public view of nanotechnology is mostly linked to futuristic scenarios about the dissolution of the human/machine distinction, of both the frightening and salvation-promising sort, such that supply of futuristic literature matches its public demand.”