The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies had a web cast today discussing what persuades the public to buy (or not buy) nanotech products. Some thoughts:
Steven Currall (Professor in the Faculty of Engineering Sciences at University College London) asked the salient question "is the public obsessed with risk?" Drawing on a paper that appears n the December 2006 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, he concludes "no." People, he says, consider both risks as well as benefits when buying "nanotech products" (makes sense to me).
Neal Lane (former Presidential Science Advisor to Clinton) also spoke on policy implications re: nano. He asked whether nano's potential would be lost amidst the welter of concerns about risk and the failure to educate/engage the public. He made the case that the public is currently neutral about nano and only needs more information to reach a (presumably) positive conclusion.
A few thoughts - while I tuned in late (the web page wouldn't load properly for some reason), I heard no reference to the work (or the existence) at either the CNS-UCSB or its counterpart at ASU. Although there were calls for a better and more coordinated national strategy to deal with EHS issues, I found this ironic given that neither of the two national centers founded to deal with societal implications were referred to.
Finally, I recalled that, about a year ago, a colleague at a conference asked me if all this interest in nano-and-society wasn't part of an effort to create future nano-consumers. At the time, I thought this was a cynical interpretation. Sure, this might be part of the motivation. However, what I heard in this web cast is encouraging me to think about this more seriously. How much of this focus on EHS is driven by concerns high up in the federal government that some event - even a bogus (i.e. no-nano) event - might, as Lane put it, derail "nano's potential to revolutionize all other technologies"?