Tag Archives: the Cultural Cognition Project

Nanopinion in France and elsewhere in Europe

Anne Fleischman has written a July 3, 2013 article (Pluie de science; Avis d’inexpert) for Québec’s Agence Science-Presse that focuses on the European nanotechnology dialogue project, Nanopinion and its efforts in France and elsewhere in Europe. I last mentioned Nanopinion in an April 23, 2013 posting concerning their sponsored initiative (combined advertising and editorial content?)  in the UK’s Guardian newspaper,

Small World, a nanotechnology blog, was launched today (Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013)  on the UK’s Guardian newspaper science blogs network. Here’s more from the Introductory page,

Small World is a blog about new developments in nanotechnology funded by Nanopinion, a European Commission project. All the posts are commissioned by the Guardian, which has complete editorial control over the blog’s contents. The views expressed are those of the authors and not the EC

This summer (2013), Nanopinion will be polling the French and other Europeans regarding their opinion on nanotechnology. From Fleischman’s article (although I will provide a bit of translation, it might be best if you have some French language skills),

Cet été, un peu partout en Europe, on sonde l’opinion du public sur les nanotechnologies. Les gens n’y connaissent rien? Peut-être, mais ils ont certainement quelque chose à en dire.

Avec le projet NANOPINION, l’Europe prend le taureau par les cornes: au lieu d’attendre qu’un éventuel scandale sanitaire vienne éclabousser l’industrie tout en traumatisant les esprits au sujet de ces si mystérieuses nanotechnologies, onze Européens ont décidé de sonder l’opinion publique. Le but: faire remonter les impressions à chaud des populations.

«On ne prétend pas demander à quiconque de se forger une opinion définitive en cinq minutes. Il s’agit de tâter le pouls des gens et de leur faire prendre conscience que, même s’ils n’y connaissent pas grand-chose a priori, ils ont quand même le droit d’avoir un avis», explique Didier Laval, chargé de mission au Réseau des Musées et Centres de science européens, ECSITE, l’un des porteurs du projet.

L’idée: pas la peine d’avoir un doctorat en physique pour avoir voix au chapitre. Une approche qui ouvre la porte à une autre manière d’appréhender la culture scientifique. «Comment motiver des gens à participer à un débat public s’ils sont convaincus qu’ils sont trop ignorants pour le faire? Avec NANOPINION, on veut leur prouver qu’avec très peu d’information de base au départ, ils peuvent quand même se forger une première impression sur un sujet qui les concerne directement même s’ils n’en ont pas conscience», explique Didier Laval.

“Taking the bull by the horns,” Nanopinion will be surveying public opinion in a special way. While it’s not possible to turn people into experts in five minutes, it is possible for people to formulate and express some generalized opinions. (This approach sounds like it’s  based on some ideas that came out of work by Dan Kahan and other researchers at the Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project and which I mentioned in a Dec. 9, 2008 posting. The Cultural Cognition Project researchers suggested that a lot of our opinions arise from preexisting cultural values, which we will apply to new technologies.)

Getting back to the translation, Laval and his team want to convince people that they can participate in public dialogues and surveys concerning nanotechnology even if they don’t have a PhD. in physics.

I gather that during the summer, Nanopinion will be popping up everywhere (in the downtown areas of various cities, at music festivals , and elsewhere) with their multimedia stations and friendly folks encouraging the public to participate in a five minute survey. I wonder if they’ve designed the survey to seem like a game. As for popping up at music festivals, that seems to have been a successful science outreach strategy for Guerilla Science, which made an appearance at the 2011 Glastonbury Music Festival (as per my July 12, 2011 posting).

In any event, this seems to be another public dialogue/engagement/survey project as prophylactic treatment. From the Fleischman article,

Il est peu probable que le NANOPINION puisse à lui tout seul mettre un gouvernement à l’abri d’un scandale de type Amiante ou Vache folle si, un jour, un grave dérapage se produisait dans l’industrie des nanotechnologies. Cependant, le projet témoigne d’une volonté de l’Europe d’être davantage à l’écoute de ses citoyens en matière de recherche scientifique : un nouveau paradigme dans les rapports entre la science et la société.

My translation (such as it is): It is highly unlikely that Nonopinion alone can shelter government from nanotechnology scandals similar to the Amiante (?) and ‘mad cow disease’ scandals. Essentially, the existence of this project, Nanopinion, is proof of Europe’s desire to listen to its citizens regarding their opinions on scientific research and its desire to create a new paradigm for science and its relations to society.

Interestingly, it was approximately three years ago that public dialogues about nanotechnology scheduled in various cities in France were either cancelled or abruptly ended as per my Feb. 28, 2010 posting and my March 10, 2010 posting.

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.

Military robots, the latest models; Quantum computing at Univ of Toronto; Cultural Cognition Project at Yale; Carla Bruni and Stephen Hawking

There was an industry trade show of military robots  this week which caught my eye since I’ve been mentioning robots, military and otherwise, in my postings lately. Apparently military enthusiasm for robots continues unabated.  From the media release on Physorg.com,

“I think we’re at the beginning of an unmanned revolution,” Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, told AFP.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems.”

There’s more,

In 2003, the US military had almost no robots in its arsenal but now has 7,000 unmanned aircraft and at least 10,000 ground vehicles.

The US Air Force, which initially resisted the idea of pilotless planes, said it trains more operators for unmanned aircraft than pilots for its fighter jets and bombers.

Interestingly, iRobot which sells robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba) to consumers also sells a “Wall-E lookalike robot” which searches enemy terrain and buildings to find and dismantle explosives.

This all reminds me of an article on BBC News (Call for debate on killer robots) which I posted about here when I was looking at the possibility (courtesy of an article by Jamais Cascio) of systems that are both unmanned and without operators, i.e. autonomous, intelligent systems/robots.

The University of Toronto (Canada) is hosting a conference on quantum information and control. From the media release on Azonano,

Quantum Information is a revolutionary approach to computing and communication which exploits the phenomena of quantum mechanics – the fundamental theory of nature at is most basic, sub-atomic level – to vastly enhance the capabilities of today’s computers and internet communication.

The conference is being held from August 24 – 27, 2009.

In yesterday’s posting about Andrew Maynard’s review of a book on science illiteracy I mentioned that I had a hesitation about one of the recommendations he made for further reading. Specifically, I have some reservations about the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School’s work on nanotechnology. To be absolutely fair, I’ve read only an earlier version of a paper (then titled) Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation.

I did try to read the latest version and the other papers on nanotechnology produced by the group but they’re behind paywalls (click on Download paper if you like but I just tested them and not one was accessible). So, I’m working off the copy that I could freely download at the time.

First, they are using the word cultural in a fashion that many of us are unfamiliar with. Culture in this paper is used in the context of risk perception and the specific theoretical underpinning comes from anthropologist, Mary Douglas. From the paper I downloaded,

Drawing heavily on the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, one conception of the cultural cognition of risk divides cultural outlooks along two cross-cutting dimensions. The first, “hierarchy-egalitarianism” characterizes the relative preferences of persons for a society in which resources, opportunities, privileges and duties are distributed along fixed and differentiated (of gender, race, religion, and class, for example) versus one in which those goods are distributed without regard to such differences. The other, “individualism-communitarianism,” characterizes the relative preference of persons for a society in which individuals secure the conditions for their own flourishing without collective interference versus one in which the collective is charged with securing its members’ basic needs and in which individual interests are subordinated to collective ones.

This looks like a very politicized approach. Roughly speaking, you have the Horatio Alger/anybody can become president of the US success myth laced with Henry David Thoreau and his self-sufficient utopia cast against collective action (American Revolution, “power to the people”) and communism.

The authors found that people tended to shape their views about technology according to their values and the authors worried in their conclusion that nanotechnology could be the subject of intransigent attitudes on all sides. From the paper,

Nanotechnology, on this view, could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.

For my taste there’s just too much agenda underlying this work. Again, from the paper,

Those in a position to educate the public–from government officials to scientists to members of industry–must also intelligently frame that information in ways that make it possible for persons of diverse cultural orientation to reconcile it with their values.

Note that there is no hint that the discussion could go both ways and there’s the implication that if the information is framed “intelligently” that there will be acceptance.

If you can get your hands on the material, it is an interesting and useful read but proceed with caution.

As it’s Friday, I want to finish off with something a little lighter. Raincoaster has two amusing postings, one about Stephen Hawking and the debate on US health care reform. The other posting features a video of Carla Bruni, Mme Sarkozy and wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, singing. (She’s pretty good.) Have a nice weekend!

ETA (Aug.14, 2009 at 12 pm PST) I forgot to mention that the article concludes that how much you learn about nanotechnology (i.e. your scientific literacy) does not markedly affect your perception of the risks. From the paper,

One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessment of its risk and benefits should converge. Our results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.