, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 1573-1585,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Of risks and regulations: how leading U.S. nanoscientists form policy stances about nanotechnology

Abstract

Even though there is a high degree of scientific uncertainty about the risks of nanotechnology, many scholars have argued that policy-making cannot be placed on hold until risk assessments are complete (Faunce, Med J Aust 186(4):189–191, 2007; Kuzma, J Nanopart Res 9(1):165–182, 2007; O’Brien and Cummins, Hum Ecol Risk Assess 14(3):568–592, 2008; Powell et al., Environ Manag 42(3):426–443, 2008). In the absence of risk assessment data, decision makers often rely on scientists’ input about risks and regulation to make policy decisions. The research we present here goes beyond the earlier descriptive studies about nanotechnology regulation to explore the heuristics that the leading U.S. nanoscientists use when they make policy decisions about regulating nanotechnology. In particular, we explore the relationship between nanoscientists’ risk and benefit perceptions and their support for nanotech regulation. We conclude that nanoscientists are more supportive of regulating nanotechnology when they perceive higher levels of risks; yet, their perceived benefits about nanotechnology do not significantly impact their support for nanotech regulation. We also find some gender and disciplinary differences among the nanoscientists. Males are less supportive of nanotech regulation than their female peers and materials scientists are more supportive of nanotechnology regulation than scientists in other fields. Lastly, our findings illustrate that the leading U.S. nanoscientists see the areas of surveillance/privacy, human enhancement, medicine, and environment as the nanotech application areas that are most in need of new regulations.