Nanotechnology: Risks and the Media
Friedman, Sharon M.
Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE
Vol. 24, Num. 4
A few watchdog groups are making public issue of nantechnology’s perils; scientists and businessmen, within their own bailiwicks, are investigating potential risks to health and the environment; however, the public, at least within the US and UK, remain uninformed and unconcerned. The media is the conduit for public scientific knowledge; when coverage is low, as it is for nanotechnology, public opinion is, at best, fuzzy. In this baseline study, of the 121 articles gathered and coded by Friedman and Egolf, the headlines were more negative than the aggregate of article content. Specifically named health risks were linked to studies by Oberdorster and Warheit and Lam, but most were unspecified. Side-effects of nanotechnology was the other key concern: in the UK, focus was on social risks; in the US, the focus was on business, occupational risks, and military issues. Some articles linked possible nanotech disasters to earlier disasters like asbestos and some discusses (31% US; 40% UK) the need for regulation. In general, “only mild concern about potential health and environmental nanotech risks was expressed between 2000 and 2004 in the newspapers and wire services studied. This mild concern about risks clearly does not counterbalance all the positive stories about the benefits and promises of nanotechnology found by Gorss and Lewenstein and Stephens.” (10) As the field develops, and risk coverage increases, it will be important to place risks in context.