Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hart Research Assoc. Report, Woodrow Wilson Institute Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies - RECOMMENDED

Hart Research Assoc. Report
Woodrow Wilson Institute Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies
19 September 2006

REVIEW – GOOD but could be better.

I am a big fan of data and credit goes to WWIS-Pew folks and Hart, but let’s not overdraw conclusions. Also, I am working without the Harris data on these studies so it is a stretch.

My general comment was too much univariate analysis (more on this below). Also, it is important we unpack the term nanotechnology (variable bundling happens with terms like this). We may be testing a variable that is only incidentally associated with the nano part of nanotechnology.

Multivariate analysis –

We need to know what it means to understand what a government agency does and how the sample learns what the agency does. We need to understand what the sample means when it thinks industries should not monitor itself in terms of cosmetics.
We need to know what opinions people who know little or nothing about nanotechnology have about nanotechnology as well. We also need to know nanotechnology means to people who claim they know a lot about it.

We need to know better what people who know a lot about nanotechnology think constitute risks and benefits and what people who know little to nothing about nanotechnology think constitute risks and benefits.

Regarding familiarity and approval rations for government agencies:

Note 92 percent of respondents understand what the FDA does. This data is self-reported. It is equally likely only 8 percent had enough confidence to admit they did not know what the FDA does. Simply put, for this data to be accurate, you would need to test understanding beyond asking the sample. Same relates to the EPA and USDA data set.

Between 2004 and 2005, there was a 15 percent drop in familiarity with the FDA. This is a very unusual big a data. Between 2004 and 2006, there was a 5 percent and that is probably within the margin of error. The decline between 2004 and 2005 in probably due to some negative publicity associated with cardiotoxicity of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors and regular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Nonetheless, no one will deny that approval of government regulators has been declining though not as precipitously as it has been in Western Europe (BSE in UK and dioxin in Belgium and Netherlands).

Public confidence in business:

In general, this has always been true. Scientists associated with industry as less trusted than those associated with universities and business data is seen as less reliable as non-business data. Undoubtedly, the cosmetics findings are highly consistent though the term exclusively is a red flag [it functions much likes a charismatic term in rhetoric] in a question (exclusive means 100 percent, non-exclusive can mean 99%). In addition, Sandman observed decades ago the public exaggerates voluntary risks and cosmetics are a voluntary risk. Nonetheless, there seems to be some sensitivity to cosmetics and nanoparticles.

Public awareness of nanotechnology:

First, those people who search out information on nanoscience and nanotechnology are self-selected. In the vast majority of cases, they probably have some technical background. As such, they would fall into expert categories and experts demonstrate much less fear about technology. I do not conclude “a clear associated can be made between nanotechnology familiarity and impressions about its risks and benefits” from this data. More useful conclusions of this ilk come from deliberative polling experiments, like consensus conferences, juries, citizen schools, and science cafes.

Second, the age differences are a function of a lot of factors including media coverage especially given the limited coverage given nanoscience and nanotechnology in the standard media outlets, television and newspapers.

Third, the reluctance of women to admit they know what they do not is unsurprising to me. From what I hear men have a greater tendency to overclaim this competence on a variety of matters.

Fourth, there is this additional problem. “Merely mentioning the possible adverse consequences (no matter how rare) of some product or activity could enhance their perceived likelihood and make them appear more frightening” (Slovic 1986, p. 405) such as what occurred with high voltage lines and cellular telephones. So it is incorrect to assume packaging more information directly leads to a more positive view of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

There are some serious mode issues here that need to be entertained.

How information is presented is very important. Deficit theory (more information means more understanding) and disambiguation and central processing theory (more understanding means more support) are not linear functions. In addition, the public uses something called the heuristic-systematic model which needs to be studied specific to nanotechnology. They use a non-rational model.

Also, we need to ask ourselves how best to communicate material to the public – newspapers and TV, web-based, entertainment based (documentary), etc. Right now everyone is doing what they intuit may work and in the short-term wasting a lot of effort and money on personal preferences and alternative agenda.

Focus groups:

There are limited conclusions we can draw here. Focus groups are very good at generating variables for latter study. Importantly, there is no evidence that the change in opinion becomes a change in attitude. However, it is fairly self-evident that if you tell someone about something they will develop an opinion. A two-sided argument tends to produce higher adherence than a one-sided one but the public is being festooned by one-sided arguments esp. when the media has incentive to hyperbolize the downsize of nearly everything for readership and viewership issues (see Moeller’s Compassion Fatigue and my upcoming book, Disaster Pornography).

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