Nanotechnology, risk, science literacy and feelings; Canada’s Science and Technology Week 2009

The Swiss-based Innovation Society has waded into the discussion about nanoparticles and sunscreens  in the wake of the Friends of the Earth (FOE) report (mentioned here yesterday August 20, 2009).

They point out something I forgot. Despite disagreeing on the “risk  profile,” both the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and FOE advise that nanomaterials should be labelled so that consumers can make informed choices,  (I’m not sure if I’ve seen the phrase risk profile or if I just coined it but I hope it makes sense in this context.) You can read about the Innovation Society’s perspective in their media release on Nanowerk News where they also offer links to the society’s August 2009 newsletter. You have to register to receive it and the form is in German as is the page which houses the public portion of the August 2009 newsletter. So, I’m not sure what language the newsletter is written in although most of what I saw on their site is in English.

As this last week has featured a published study about two women workers who died due to nanoparticle exposure and the FOE report, I’ve been reminded of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School (mentioned here on this blog last week). One of the conclusions in the paper I read about nanotechnology and risk is that people will make judgments about emerging technologies quickly, with little information, and in line with their feelings (affect), and cultural values. In the experimental investigation they found that increasing scientific literacy (i.e. giving the respondents more factual information about nanotechnology) did nothing or very little to alter someone’s opinion once it was formed.

I can agree with this conclusion as far as it goes. I’ve observed the same process of adhering to an opinion despite any evidence to the contrary in myself and others. I noted yesterday that the FOE report did not mention the EWG findings which, in my opinion, damages their credibility and bears out the conclusions made by the team at the Cultural Cognition Project.

There is one thing which niggles at me. Technologies have emerged before, e.g. electricity. At the time, during the 19th century, it was highly contested (do take a look at Carolyn Marvin’s book, When Old Technologies were New) . Very inflammatory language was used; all kinds of “experts” emerged; scientists engaged in lots of public outreach; there were deaths and injuries; and there were predictions that life on earth would end.  Seems familiar, doesn’t it? Still, electricity has become ubiquitous for much of the world. If cultural values and feelings trump science literacy, how did electricity become ubiquitous?

The Cultural Cognition Project team seemed to suggest in their paper that once opinions have been formed they are largely intractable. If that’s so, regardless of which group’s narrative gains dominance wouldn’t the other group continue to resist? (Note: the Amish opted out from using electricity.) History tells us otherwise.

I am getting ready for my presentation at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) so y9u may find that my posting schedule is interrupted. Happy weekend and here are a few final nuggets,

The Government of Canada, in the person of Rona Ambrose, Minister of Labour, has recognized Quantium Technologies (Edmonton, Alberta) for its innovation in the areas of “linking scientific research to commercialization, jobs and economic growth.” More can be found  in the media release on Nanowerk News.

Nanowerk News has also published a guide to the materials on their site, 10 things you should know about nanotechology. I highly recommend checking this out. Go here.

Canada’s 2009 Science and Technology Week will take place Oct. 16 – 25, 2009 (seems more like 10 days to me). You can check out the currently scheduled events (I’m sure this will be updated) for your province here,

There’s an interesting  story about the first copyright trial in 6th Century Ireland here on Techdirt.

4 thoughts on “Nanotechnology, risk, science literacy and feelings; Canada’s Science and Technology Week 2009

  1. BaxDoc

    hi Frogheart – welcome back. I meant to write this earlier but forgot; yes, ‘risk profile’ is a term, commonly used when talking about investments and so on.

  2. Pingback: China and US Innovation race?; Friends of the Earth and nanocosmetics; Australia and public engagement about nanotechnology; « FrogHeart

  3. Pingback: Publicity for Canadian nano companies, Quantium Technologies and Vive Nano « FrogHeart

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *