It makes intuitive sense that science websites and blogs attract a more focused and better informed audience for science topics than traditional print and broadcast media. Traditional media sources don’t have the depth or immediacy that you can find online. Plus, being online means it’s easier to find out about and get access to the academic research (although much of it is behind paywalls) and other discussions which support the traditional media reports.
All this is by way of introduction to some new research that will be published in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research in May 2010 (the article is behind a paywall). Luckily there’s a news item on Nanowerk which offers a preview,
Internet-based science news draws a more demographically diverse, learned and focused audience than print or television news, according to a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison communication researchers.
“Science and technology are among the top reasons people go online,” says Ashley Anderson, a UW-Madison doctoral student in life sciences communication. “And those people are more diverse in age and race and more knowledgeable about science and technology than people relying on traditional media. This points to the importance of online communication in reaching a broad audience for science.”
Tracking Google search queries and Web content on nanotechnology, Anderson — along with UW-Madison life sciences communication professors Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele — analyzed who goes online for science content, what nanotechnology topics people are looking for, and what they are likely to find when they search for nanotechnology online.
“How nanotechnology is portrayed online is important because of the broad reach online media has to different audiences of science information,” says Anderson. “Online media sources are the predominant information environment for specialized scientific issues like nanotechnology.”
I had a chance to take a quick look at the research paper. Two findings from the data, which was gathered between Oct. 28, 2008 and Nov. 10, 2008, struck me as particularly interesting. First, people searching for nanotechnology information (not the most searched science topic) online used these keywords most frequently:
Next in descending order, they were interested in:
- research an science,
- economy; and
Finally, of the least interest were:
- government and regulation;
- information; and
This contrasts with the topics that nano-specific blogs/sites tend to focus on such as:
- environment and
- technology and national security.
Interestingly, general science websites/blogs when producing content about nanotechnology tend to focus heavily on health.From a practical perspective that means most users looking for information on nanotechnology (as they are probably using health as a second keyword) are going to find the general science sites first.
The second finding that popped out for me was this (from the research paper),
While there may be significant barriers to Internet access for certain demographic groups, such as those about age 65 and those with lower education and income levels (Rainie 2010), our study indicates that once members of these demographic groups do gain access to the Internet, the potential for the Internet to close socio-economic gaps and racial divides is high. Internet exposure closes knowledge gaps among individuals of differing education levels on the issue of nanotechnology (Corley and Scheufele, 2010).
Citation: Anderson, Ashley A.; Brossard, Dominique; Scheufele, Dietram A. The changing information environment for nanotechnology: online audiences and content. Journal of Nanoparticle Research (DOI 10.1007/s11051-010-9860-2) forthcoming May 2010 issue.
Dietram Scheufele has a blog, Nanopublic , where you may be able to get more information about this and other research on nanotechnology and public engagement. The latest posting is the news release for the forthcoming article I’ve been discussing.
A final point from me, I’ll have to read this research much more carefully as the results are pleasing to me personally and it’s always harder to critique research that confirms your own beliefs.
AOL gets someone to write a series on nanotechnology
AOL (America On Line) has made a bit of an online splash lately with a series of nanotechnology articles written by a senior public health correspondent named Andrew Schneider. (In light of this latest research, I wonder if AOL already knew which keywords would be most likely to attract traffic on the topic of nanotechnology.)
His articles are notable for the sheer certainty with which he presents his information. Written with an assertive, dynamic tone, Schneider presents a wealth of data without a single citation or link to support his contentions thereby confirming his or AOL’s dedication to old style (print) journalism.
In part 3 of his series, Obsession With Nanotech Growth Stymies Regulators, he states,
Consumer and safety watchdogs say Canada, the U.K. and the rest of the European Union are far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to nano safety requirements.
Canada became the first country to demand stringent reporting requirements [emphasis mine] of corporations and universities that import, manufacture or use more than 2 pounds of nanomaterial a year. The regulations — necessary for proper risk assessment, the Canadian government said — were crafted and are enforced by Health Canada and Environment Canada. They require the reporting of the nanomaterial’s chemical composition and physical description, toxicity and proposed use, along with other data.
Really? Peter Julian, MP who tabled the first nanotechnology regulation bill in the Canadian House of Commons in mid-March 2010, doesn’t appear to have heard of this plan. (See part 2 of my interview with Julian which also features some links to my investigation into ‘Canada’s one time only nano reporting plan/inventory’.) I have never been able to find any information about or confirmation of this plan which was announced through the Project Emerging Nanotechnologies (based in Washington, DC) in early 2009 and later reported in the Canadian news media and elsewhere. If you do know where I can find more about this ‘plan’, I would appreciate the information.
I have seen our supposed plan mentioned in international reports but there is never a citation or source so despite the lack of corroborating evidence of its existence, the plan is becoming a fact. (I just searched with these keywords: Canada, nanomaterial, reporting, plan and here’s what I found on the Health Canada site,
Health Canada is announcing the adoption of the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials and its posting on the Health Canada website. The Interim Policy is effective immediately and comments [public consultation] on this policy statement are being collected so that it may be updated as necessary.
Currently, the Acts and Regulations administered by Health Canada have no explicit reference to nanomaterial.
This site also features details about their ‘public consultation’,
This consultation is open for comment starting March 1, 2010 until August 31, 2010. Please select and read through the “consultation document” below. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail, mail or by fax to:
Policy, Planning and Coordination Division
Science Policy Directorate
Strategic Policy Branch
1600 Scott Street – Tower B, Suite 410
Holland Cross, Address Locator: 3104A
Here’s what Environment Canada has to say about nanomaterials (the information on this page is dated from 2007, two years before Canada’s one time only nanomaterial reporting plan is announced) ETA July 8, 2010: The page originally cited is no longer available, go to this page,
Under the provisions of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (the Act), the New Substances Notification Regulations (Chemicals and Polymers) [the Regulations] ensures that any new substance (whether a chemical or polymer) undergoes a risk assessment of its potential effects on the environment and human health.
If you manufacture in or import into Canada a new substance, you may be required to notify information with respect to this substance pursuant to the Act and the Regulations. The Act requires that the prescribed information under the Regulations be submitted to the Minister of the Environment prior to exceeding specific regulatory triggers either through the manufacture or import of a new substance.
The Domestic Substances List (DSL) is the sole basis for determining whether a substance is new. Any chemical or polymer not listed on the DSL is considered to be new to Canada and is subject to the notification requirements under the Regulations. Substances listed on the DSL do not require notification1 in advance of manufacture in or import into Canada.
The Act and the Regulations apply to new nanomaterials just as any other substance, whether a chemical or a polymer.
Substances listed on the DSL whose nanoscale forms do not have unique structures or molecular arrangements are considered existing. Existing nanomaterials are not subject to the Regulations and do not require notification. For example, titanium dioxide [emphasis mine] (CAS No. 13463-67-7) is listed on the DSL and since its nanoscale form does not have unique structures or molecular arrangements, it is not subject to the Regulations.
So getting back to Schneider for a minute, his assumption that the Canadian nanomaterial reporting exists is understandable. My problem is that he has written with absolute authority on an emerging technology notable for its lack of certainty. Schneider’s reports contain material that I know is correct, material that is incorrect, and material that I’m unfamiliar with. In the ordinary way I’d follow up the links and references but he offers nothing.
I may have more thoughts on this as time goes on but today I’m ready to sign off.