So, what do Americans think about this technology? In 2004, North Carolina State University researchers conducted a survey designed to find out about the public's perceptions of nanotechnology. The telephone survey polled a random sample of 1,536 adults in the continental United States in the spring of 2004 as a part of a larger research project studying public perceptions of nanotechnology. What follows are some of their findings.
• More than 80 percent of the adults indicated they had heard "little" or "nothing" about nanotechnology. Most of them could not correctly answer factual questions about it. However, despite knowing very little about the science, 40 percent of the respondents predicted nanotechnology would produce more benefits than risks. Another 38 percent believed risks and benefits of nanotechnology would be about equal, and only 22 percent said the risks would outweigh the benefits.
• Approximately 70 percent of those surveyed said they were "somewhat" or "very" hopeful about nanotechnology, while 80 percent said they were not worried at all about the science. Only 5 percent said they felt angry about the science.
• Respondents were also asked to choose the most important potential benefit from nanotechnology. A majority (57 percent) cited "new and better ways to detect and treat human diseases." Sixteen percent selected "new and better ways to clean up the environment"; 12 percent chose "increased national security and defense capabilities"; and 11 percent identified ways to "improve human physical and mental abilities" as the most important benefit.
• In choosing which potential risk was the most important to avoid, most respondents (32 percent) picked "losing personal privacy to tiny new surveillance devices." Others wanted to avoid "a nanotechnology inspired arms race" (24 percent); "breathing nano-sized particles that accumulate in your body" (19 percent); "economic disruption caused by the loss of traditional jobs."
For the full report, Study Shows Americans Encouraged by Prospects of Nanotechnology, contact North Carolina State University.
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