Surveys of public attitudes to nanotechnology are always surprising. Sometimes surprising that they are performed at all given the results they produce.
The latest study finds that “only 6 percent of Americans — or fewer than one in 16 — say they have “heard a lot” about nanotechnology, as compared with 10 percent in 2006,” which seems to indicate some form of creeping nano amnesia.
Polls and surveys can be tricky to get right, as many a politician has found to their cost, but some comparison is always necessary to put these results in context. When surveys indicate that a fifth of Americans cannot find the US on a world map (don’t snigger – the figure is similar for Britons) should we be at all surprised that 70% haven’t heard anything about nanotechnology? Surely the numbers being ignorant of biotechnology would be similar and in a qualitative survey of the print and broadcast media ignorance levels would be surely higher with the persistent attitude that it is better to know the classics than science.
One important finding comes out of the survey and that is that ignorance of science is related to fear of it. Oddly enough, the same thing happens in the financial world.
Companies developing “intellectual property” usually find it much harder to get funding than companies producing stuff, and a lot of this comes down, once again to ignorance of science. Science is an abstract thing, that conjures up pictures of white coated men doing unspeakable things to animals and cackling maniacally to many people, and as such has some negative connotations. Technology, on the other hand, is perceived as something useful and good, despite its use in the growing invasion of privacy and the sending of automatic speeding and parking tickets. But technology is something tangible, science is more abstract and therefore conjures up a primal fear of the unknown.
Finally, as with all surveys, there is the statement of the blindingly obvious. in this case that “individuals with less education and lower incomes are least likely to have heard about nanotechnology.”