, Volume 13, Issue 12, pp 6231-6244
Date: 05 Oct 2011

Public understanding of science and the perception of nanotechnology: the roles of interest in science, methodological knowledge, epistemological beliefs, and beliefs about science

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Abstract

In this article, we report data from an online questionnaire study with 587 respondents, representative for the adult U.S. population in terms of age, gender, and level of education. The aim of this study was to assess how interest in science and knowledge as well as beliefs about science are associated with risk and benefit perceptions of nanotechnology. The findings suggest that the U.S. public is still rather unfamiliar with nanotechnology. Those who have some knowledge mainly have gotten it from TV and the Internet. The content of current media reports is perceived as fairly positive. Knowledge of scientific methods is unrelated to benefit and risk perceptions, at least when other predictors are controlled. In contrast, positive beliefs about science (e.g., its impact on economy or health) and more sophisticated epistemological beliefs about the nature of scientific knowledge are moderately linked to more positive perceptions of nanotechnology. The only exception is the perception of scientific uncertainty: This is associated with less positive evaluations. Finally, higher engagement with science is associated with higher risk perceptions. These findings show that laypersons who are engaged with science and who are aware of the inherent uncertainty of scientific evidence might perceive nanotechnology in a somewhat more differentiated way, contrary to how it is portrayed in the media today.