*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Combining representative survey of the American public with survey data of leading nanoscientists (as based on citation record), this study takes a granular look at attitudes concerning the regulation of nanotechnology. Our results suggest that lay audiences are more favorable toward the idea of the regulation of academic nanotechnology than are nanoscientists. However, the opinions of the two groups toward the regulation of commercial nanotechnology did not significantly differ. Scientists, not surprisingly, are more concerned about the potential restrictions on their academic progress posed by governmental regulation. This suggests that consensus between scientists and the public may be easier to achieve when nanotechnology regulation is discussed in terms of commercial as opposed to academic research.
Second, this study examines the factors influencing expert and public regulatory attitudes. Compared to scientists, public attitudes toward the regulation of nanotech are shaped to a much greater extent by value predispositions. Liberals and respondents with greater levels of religiosity were more likely to support regulation of nanotechnology, as were audiences who paid greater levels of attention to media. Across both scientists and lay audiences, perceptions of risks relative to benefits consistently predicted attitudes toward regulation. Importantly, scientists rely much less on their value predispositions when forming regulatory attitudes – instead basing such opinions largely on perceptions of regulatory impacts on scientific progress.
Importantly, our study suggests that scientists and lay audiences rely on different sets of considerations when making policy decisions about emerging technologies. Scientists are much more protective of the potential resources for their research (i.e., federal funding) that may be influenced be increased regulatory oversight. Lay audiences, on the other hand, do not appear to consider regulatory impacts on scientific progress when forming attitudes such attitudes. The implications of these findings, as well as the importance of closing the attitudinal gap between scientists and the general public concerning the regulatory framework for nanotechnology are discussed.
Keywords: regulation, expert opinion, public opinion, media, risk, nanotechnology