Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 1533–1548 | Cite as

Creating informed public opinion: citizen deliberation about nanotechnologies for human enhancements

  • Michael D. Cobb
Special focus: Governance of Nanobiotechnology


Many people believe that ordinary citizens should influence scientific and technological developments, but the American public is routinely uninformed about these issues. As a solution, some scholars advocate creating informed public opinions by encouraging citizens to deliberate about the issues. Although this idea is currently widely applauded in the science and technology literature, deliberative outcomes are infrequently measured and the practice of deliberation is routinely criticized in other disciplines. This research contributes to our understanding of the effectiveness of citizen deliberation as a method for increasing public engagement with science. I report data measuring results of deliberation in a national citizens’ technology forum (NCTF) about nanotechnologies for human enhancement. The NCTF was a month-long process involving six groups of 9–15 ordinary citizens who deliberated in different locations across the United States with the goal of reaching consensus about policy recommendations within their groups. I find that structured deliberation generated informed opinions, sometimes meaningful shifts in preferences, and increased trust and internal efficacy among the participants. Nevertheless, the NCTF has important shortcomings, and it is not obvious that consensus conferences should be preferred over other mechanisms for creating informed opinions. Future research is needed to corroborate the findings of this study and to systematically compare outcomes of structured citizen deliberation to other less resource intensive forms of engagement.


Nanotechnology Public opinion Deliberation Human enhancement Governance 



I am grateful for research assistance provided by Deena Bayoumi, feedback provided by Patrick Hamlett, NCTF collaborators at six site locations, and participants at the workshop, “Publics and Emerging Technologies: Cultures, Contexts and Challenges,” Banff, Canada, October 30–31, 2009. Preparation of this article was supported by the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (NSF grant # #0531194) and National Science Foundation (NSF) grant #0608791, “NIRT: Evaluating Oversight Models for Active Nanostructures and Nanosystems: Learning from Past Technologies in a Societal Context” (Principle Investigator: S.M. Wolf; Co-PIs: E. Kokkoli, J. Kuzma, J. Paradise, and G. Ramachandran). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science, School of Public and International AffairsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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