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
http://www.nanotechproject.org/78/public-awareness-of-nano-grows-but-majority-unaware

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).

Friday, September 8, 2006

On Defense Nanotechnology - RECOMMENDED

Defense Nanotechnology, Department of Defense, Research and Development Programs, May 8, 2006.

This is recommended because it is one of the most complete views of current defense programs.

The primary focus of the defense efforts involves enhancing war fighter and battle systems capabilities. Program goals include advanced solid state power generation, cooling, and thermal management, esp. batteries with enhanced discharge rate and energy density and fuel cell catalysts.

Especially interesting is their interest in the use of viruses and related structures as templates for nanowires and for arrays of inorganic materials of particular interest. In terms of nanomaterials, there is interest in solar energy conversion and optical communications. In terms of devices, the most fascinating interest is to read and transmit commands from the central or peripheral nervous system to a prosthetic device. Another area of interest is in nanomanufacturing where one of their accomplishments is a nanocomposite meal bag for the Meals Ready-To-Eat ration has been developed using low density polyethylene/montmorillonite layered silicate, and compounding and film extrusion trials were transitioned to the pilot scale.

On Consultation on a Voluntary Reporting Scheme for Engineered Nanoscale Materials- RECOMMENDED

Department for Environmental, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA UK), Consultation on a Voluntary Reporting Scheme for Engineered Nanoscale Materials, Summary of Findings and Government’s Response, August, 2006, http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/nanotech-vrs/nanotechvrs-consultfindings.pdf.

The primary reason this piece is recommended has to do with its reflective nature of a similarly voluntary scheme under consideration by the EPA in the USA.

Some of the views are particularly interesting for some of the questions they raise. Here are some examples. My comments are in italics.

2.1 – 9 – the VRS (voluntary reporting scheme) … needed to be paralleled by a significant programme of publicly funded research on potential risks.

This is an issue in the USA as well. We need more funding for toxicology research and framework/roadmap studies. Too often we hear of amounts bandied about that far exceed the dedicated budgets given to toxicology research. The USA federal government should simply dedicate 10 percent of its development budget on health and safety research (not associated but dedicated).

2.1 – 11 – …there should be a labeling scheme to enable consumer choice over the products of nanotechnologies, including food, health and beauty products).

I reject labeling until we can be assured that labels actually communicate accurate risk information. In addition, labels are symbolic acts.

2.2 – 15 – …some respondents called for the VRS to be made mandatory to ensure, from the outset, representative participation and adequate monitoring of company activity.

This is an interesting conundrum. Surely, this is quite a challenge for a voluntary program, but the point should be taken seriously. Voluntary programs may not encourage cross-representation. The participants may not reflect the market. More on this below.

2.2 – 17 – …companies would need a clear statement about the status of their submitted data, including ownership and the uses to which it would be put.

This is a CBI issue and both voluntary schemes will need to guarantee confidentiality especially in nanoscience with IP is value.

2.2 – 20 – …if during the two year period while we are gathering evidence it becomes apparent that additional controls are needed, we will take action in the most rapid manner possible.

This is an interesting observation. Ongoing program assessment should be built into both the UK and USA models. A metric should be developed such that at some point the program rolls over to a more strict regulatory model should its voluntary version prove unsatisfactory.

2.3 – 23 – …the priority for the VRS should be ‘free’ engineered nanoscale materials.

Makes sense given the literature on embedded particles, like CNTs in golf shafts, hasn’t supported a life cycle analysis suggesting some long-term environmental footprint. Roadmaps of this sort are particularly important at this time. We need to determine what needs to be done first. Setting priorities will make regulatory projects of this sort more rational.

2.3 – 26 & 28 – …a strict size-related restriction on what materials … would fail to account for cases where particle size may significantly exceed 100 nm, but key physical and functional properties of the particles remain within this range…. The initial focus of the VRS will be all free-engineered nanoscale materials with two or more dimensions up to 200 nm.

This same issue has surfaced regarding the definition of what constitutes nanotechnology over and over again. The definition which includes size and function seems to work best. As we begin to get better information characterizing nanoparticles, this subject will be addressed. The USA’s definition of 100 nm in one or more dimensions is adequate but seems to work better when function is added, i.e., “At the nanoscale, the physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials differ in fundamental and valuable ways from the properties of individual atoms and molecules or bulk matter. Nanotechnology R&D is directed toward understanding and creating improved materials, devices, and systems that exploit these new properties.”

2.3 – 29 – …the VRS should include the production, importation and use of engineered nanoscale materials…. [T]hose responsible for processing nanoparticle waste streams should be encouraged to participate.

This seems prudent given the lack of discussion on waste streams. Given how problematic waste streams have been in the semiconductor industry and how the industry has made triumphal strides to reducing its environmental footprint, the same needs to be done for engineered nanoparticles, esp. in bulk manufacturing.

2.4 – 33 – …the VRS had been broadened to include research organizations and universities as well as commercial producers, users, and importers of deliberately produced engineered nanoscale materials.

Importers need to be included though it seems users might be more problematic. Commercial producers and importers are the primary foci. I am perplexed how users will participate in a VRS and will follow this issue.

2.5 – 36 – …the VRS should have a multi-stakeholder oversight board.

Agreed. I have some reservations on the entire concept of stakeholder and have a chapter coming out in a Wiley Book edited by Patrick Lin where I discuss stakeholders in detail.

2.6 – 39 – …the VRS should be managed so that it does not impose undue burdens on small and medium sized enterprises.

Encouraging smaller companies to participate will be a challenge for both the USA and the UK. Incentives will need to be built into the voluntary programs to encourage all levels of participation. Safe harbors, special treatment, etc. will need to be incorporated into VRS.

2.7 – 44 – …the extent of the suggested data package may deter companies from participating.

This remains a quandary. Require a lot of information and fewer firms will participate because of the cost disincentive. Require little information and more firms will participate but the data sets may be less useful. The balance needs to be struck and it remains a challenge.

2.11 – 58 – …two years was an appropriate time scale for the VRS.

There has not been much of a discussion on time frames for the USA model. It is unclear why two years is the appropriate scale and there is little indication how this scale was determined.

2.13 – 67 – We recognize the critical role that public confidence plays in today’s regulatory environment, and this is exactly why we believe that the voluntary option, which does not delay the collecting of important risk data from companies, is the most appropriate one.

Public confidence is overstated. The public is the UK remains distinctly different from the public in the USA. There are a lot of sociological reasons for this. While the public might balk when public monies are spent, might decide to refrain from purchasing nanoproducts, and might even decide to boycott or protest, the last two are less often seen in the USA when compared to the public in the UK.

On Trudy E. Bell, Reporting Risk Assessment of Nanotechnology - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Trudy E. Bell, Reporting Risk Assessment of Nanotechnology: A reporter’s guide to sources and research issues, 2006 (Pre-publication issue) -- http://www.nano.gov/html/news/reporting_risk_assessment_of_nanotechnology.pdf

This review is brief peppered with cynicism and praise. Since the article is so brief (7 pp.), referencing each section seems unnecessary. This is an easy read while exercising on the elliptical trainer or treadclimber.

Bell’s brief guide is useful but I doubt many journalists will use it and those that will use it will probably not admit having used it. My experience with journalists and I worked in this field has been that they are incredibly busy and overworked and regularly asked to stretch their competencies in a dozen different directions every month. They need to be provided with bits of information relevant to their immediate inquiry. They should be applauded for their hard work and diligence and we should make every opportunity to answer their questions clearly and precisely. Instead of lecturing them, we need to converse with them. In the world of journalism, lateral communication is highly preferable to a vertical or hierarchical model.

On the other hand, this guide is incredibly useful in providing someone interested in nanoscience and nanotechnology with a general introduction into the issues pervading the field. I can see me using the guide in my advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in risk communication and the rhetoric of science and technology. In my efforts to put together the nanotechnology primer, I feel Bell’s article is a necessary addition to every reading list on nanotechnology policy and media coverage of nanoscience.

Finally, the section on “cautions for reporting” should be included in every journalism course covering science reporting.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Took a Needed Break.

Yes. I took a break.

In the time I was away, I had some surgery to remove a lipoma. Did a lot of work on ICON's communication. Signed a contract with Artists and Artisans to represent me and my new book which has only one chapter on technology. Also I appeared on a video podcast for the Institute for the Future of Medicine with Greg Downing of NCI and am consulting with two international communication firms. I am going to be at NanoTex '06 in Dallas at the end of the month, may pen an article for Nanotechnology Perceptions, and am scheduled to be in Los Vegas and Boston in October and San Antonio in November before Tokyo on the first week in December. Right now, I am catching up on my reading and applying for academic jobs at Michigan, Massachusetts-Amherst, San Diego, and Pittsburgh.

I will continue to post reviews of publications but right now I am working on a White Paper for ICON on Government Regulation.

Back soon.