, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 101–131 | Cite as

Ethics and Nanotechnology: Views of Nanotechnology Researchers

  • Robert McGinn
Original Paper


A study was conducted of nanotechnology (NT) researchers’ views about ethics in relation to their work. By means of a purpose-built questionnaire, made available on the Internet, the study probed NT researchers’ general attitudes toward and beliefs about ethics in relation to NT, as well as their views about specific NT-related ethical issues. The questionnaire attracted 1,037 respondents from 13 U.S. university-based NT research facilities. Responses to key questionnaire items are summarized and noteworthy findings presented. For most respondents, the ethical responsibilities of NT researchers are not limited to those related to safety and integrity in the laboratory. Most believe that NT researchers also have specific ethical responsibilities to the society in which their research is done and likely to be applied. NT appears to be one of the first areas of contemporary technoscientific activity in which a long-standing belief is being seriously challenged: the belief that society is solely responsible for what happens when a researcher’s work, viewed as neutral and merely enabling, is applied in a particular social context. Survey data reveal that most respondents strongly disagree with that paradigmatic belief. Finally, an index gauging NT researcher sensitivity to ethics and ethical issues related to NT was constructed. A substantial majority of respondents exhibited medium or high levels of sensitivity to ethics in relation to NT. Although most respondents view themselves as not particularly well informed about ethics in relation to NT, a substantial majority are aware of and receptive to ethical issues related to their work, and believe that these issues merit consideration by society and study by current and future NT practitioners.


Ethics Ethical responsibilities Nanotechnology Nanotechnology researchers Ethical issues related to nanotechnology (EIRNT) Risk Precaution Laboratory cultures Safety Shortcutting Hype Ethics education Index of sensitivity to EIRNT 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management Science and Engineering, Program in Science, Technology, and SocietyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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