If you are like most people you probably aren’t alarmed about the dangers of nanotechnology. In fact if you are like most people you probably don’t even know what nanotechnology is. I’ll resist the temptation to say general knowledge of the emerging technology of the very small is even smaller. Despite the fact most of us have no clue, there is a surprising amount of nano products already in the marketplace, incorporated in products from food containers to golf clubs. But there remain doubts about safety. Nanoparticles are so small they don’t act in ways we understand, either physically or biologically. Yet we let the genie out of the bottle and he isn’t likely to go back in. The question is how many of his friends will come out with him before we find a problem. Unlike other areas where the scientists usually are less worried than the public, with nanotechnology it’s the other way around:
The unknown human health and environmental impacts of nanotechnology are a bigger worry for scientists than for the public, according to a new report published today (Nov. 25) in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The new report was based on a national telephone survey of American households and a sampling of 363 leading U.S. nanotechnology scientists and engineers. It reveals that those with the most insight into a technology with enormous potential — and that is already emerging in hundreds of products — are unsure what health and environmental problems might be posed by the technology.
“Scientists aren’t saying there are problems,” says the study’s lead author Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of life sciences communication and journalism. “They’re saying, ‘we don’t know. The research hasn’t been done.’” (presscue via Slashdot)
The differences between scientist and public concern aren’t huge but they are noticeable. 20% of scientists worry about nanoparticle pollution while the number in the public sample was 15%. For health, the numbers are 30% of scientists expressing concern, 20% of the public. The twl issues where public concern exceeded the concern of scientists was over privacy and jobs: the public is worried about tiny surveillance devices and loss of US jobs.
I hope they don’t voice those concerns out loud. They might get fired.