Experts More Worried about Nanotech than Public

My colleague Dietram Scheufele is lead author on a study in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology. In their survey work, Scheufele et al. find that experts are more concerned about the health and environmental risks of nanotech than the public at large. This gulf in perceptions is despite a widespread lack of knowledge about the issue among citizens. See the press release.

The findings are consistent with a study I published earlier this year with another University of Wisconsin colleague Dominique Brossard. In our survey analysis examining American perceptions of plant biotechnology, we describe as a strong value construct in American culture the tendency to automatically defer to scientific authority and expertise.

On most issues, most of the time, the preferred heuristic for the public is to trust scientists and government regulators. In other words, absent any cues that an emerging area of science might conflict with a rival value system such as religion or environmentalism, the public for the most part prefers not to know much about the risks or benefits of a technology. All that is needed is for scientists and regulators to reassure the public that a product is safe.

With nanotechnology, at this stage in its mediated issue development, no news is good news. Nanotech remains covered at the science and business pages and has yet to spill over into the wider public eye. Moreover, this limited amount of coverage remains strongly framed in terms of social progress and economic development.

However as I note with Scheufele in our article at The Scientist there are signs of a possible emerging frame shift. Yet until competing elites start to actively frame the issue in terms that trigger the application of values other than a default deference to science, expect the public to remain blissfully ignorant and supportive of nanotech.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

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