Public puts faith in nanotech despite little knowledge
Many people on both sides of the Atlantic have little idea what 'nanotechnology' means—but they still think it will benefit them in the long run.
A poll of more than 1,500 US adults, backed by the National Science Foundation, has found that 80% of people have heard little or nothing about nanotechnology. Nevertheless, 40% of respondents felt that it would bring more benefits than risks, and a further 38% felt the risks and benefits would be about equal.
A British survey released in March by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering found similar levels of ignorance: 71% of UK respondents had never heard of nanotech. But of those who knew the term, 68% thought it would make things better in the future.
The surveys are likely to reassure scientists working in the field, who have become alarmed at activists' attempts to portray their work as a threat to human health and the environment (see Nature 424, 246—248; 2003). But the US poll has a sting in its tail: 60% of respondents said they do not trust business leaders to minimize the technology's risks.
This just reminded me, for some reason, of Blightner's comment the other night: "You just can't hate people and love democracy at the same time." Or as he remembers it more eloquently (and, likely, more accurately), "How can we reconcile our misanthropy with our faith in democracy?")