Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 111–132 | Cite as

Scientists’ Ethical Obligations and Social Responsibility for Nanotechnology Research

  • Elizabeth A. Corley
  • Youngjae Kim
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
Original Paper


Scientists’ sense of social responsibility is particularly relevant for emerging technologies. Since a regulatory vacuum can sometimes occur in the early stages of these technologies, individual scientists’ social responsibility might be one of the most significant checks on the risks and negative consequences of this scientific research. In this article, we analyze data from a 2011 mail survey of leading U.S. nanoscientists to explore their perceptions the regarding social and ethical responsibilities for their nanotechnology research. Our analyses show that leading U.S. nanoscientists express a moderate level of social responsibility about their research. Yet, they have a strong sense of ethical obligation to protect laboratory workers (in both universities and industry) from unhealthy exposure to nanomaterials. We also find that there are significant differences in scientists’ sense of social and ethical responsibility depending on their demographic characteristics, job affiliation, attention to media content, risk perceptions and benefit perceptions. We conclude with some implications for future research.


Social responsibility Scientist perceptions Research ethics Nanotechnology 



This material is based on work supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SES-0531194), the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at ASU, and the John E. Ross Chair in Science Communication at the University of Wisconsin. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF, The Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, or the University of Wisconsin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth A. Corley
    • 1
  • Youngjae Kim
    • 1
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Public AffairsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  2. 2.John E. Ross Professor, Department of Life Sciences CommunicationUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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