Claim: Public nano views based on heuristics, not tech literacy

UW Madison prof Dietram Scheufele writes about his research in Smalltimes: “In work forthcoming in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research and Science Communication my colleagues and I explored many of these shortcuts in greater detail. I want to highlight one here that illustrates the competing influences of information and heuristics. We conducted a national phone survey in 2004 to assess respondents’ levels of information about nanotechnology and their support for the new technology. This produced four distinct segments: informed supporters of nanotech, informed opponents, uninformed supporters and uninformed opponents.

“We also gauged how much guidance religion played in respondents’ lives, averaged for each segment. Both informed and uninformed supporters reported lower levels of religiosity than the two segments of opponents. Second, and more importantly, the segment reporting the highest levels of religiosity were the informed opponents, i.e., the people who were generally opposed to nanotechnology, even though they were significantly more informed about the issue than more than half of the population.

“This shows how information and heuristics clash for informed opponents of nanotech. And it is reasonable to assume that the unusually high levels of religiosity in this segment serve as a heuristic for opposing nanotech in spite of understanding much of the science behind it.”

One can imagine these religious informed opponents may dispute the phrase “in spite of” above. Exciting debates ahead! —Christine

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