At Nature Nanotechnology, Implications for Re-Thinking Science Communication

The University of Wisconsin news office has posted a valuable Q&A with my friend and UW professor Dietram Scheufele. The occasion is a new study he has published with colleagues at Nature Nanotechnology, examining the relationship between the social background of audiences and their views on the moral acceptability of nanotechnology, comparing perceptions in the US to Europe.

The interview hits closely on some of the major themes Scheufele and I cover in a manuscript that provides a big picture view on new directions in science communication. Here's a key excerpt from the interview:

WW: Do we need to rethink the way we talk about science and its implications in America?

DS: Absolutely. Effective communication with wide cross sections of society is probably more important now than it's ever been. Issues like nanotechnology and stem cell research raise questions about what it means to be human, what kind of applications we want in the market and how quickly. The tricky part is that, while scientists generally realize how important it is to connect with the public, many people have taken the approach that it will be enough if we just put sound science out there. But unfortunately that's not really supported by our research.

Rather, we need to realize that different publics have different informational needs, react very differently to information, and -- most importantly -- are looking for answers to questions that often have very little to do with the scientific issues surrounding emerging technologies. As some of our recent research here at Wisconsin shows, trying to make sense of the moral implications of nano breakthroughs based on their own belief or value systems is much more important for some groups in society at the moment than understanding the science behind it.

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