Nanotechnology: public engagement with health, environmental and social issues

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Resource or Project Abstract

This EPA STRIVE research fellowship report presents a literature review and fieldwork data for a project which investigated how the topic of nanotechnology can be engaged with by both experts on the topic, and non-experts. The first objective was to map out what can be said about knowledge of nanotechnology in contemporary Ireland. The approach taken was that all perspectives on nanotechnology were taken on board, analysed and synthesised, including deviations from the accepted truths about nanotechnology. While perspectives on environmental and health implications were of particular interest, they were not the primary focus in discussions, unless raised by participants and commentators. Methods used for this included an awareness survey and media and document analysis.

The second objective was to pilot a series of nanotechnology communication events, which would provide the basis of a future communications/ consultation strategy for policymakers. The types of activities used in these events included focus groups, a citizens' jury, online forums and an installation in the Science Gallery. The contributions from these activities also contributed to the first objective of finding nanotechnology knowledge.

The third and final objective was to report to the EPA, to aid future environmental research associated with public communication and wider science communication and technology assessment policy by the Irish Government.

The following was concluded from this project:
*Scientists were the most prominent voices in public discourse about nanotechnology, but mostly in the context of commercial exploitation and innovation
*Environment and health risks and benefits were tied to social and ethical considerations very closely and participants were at least as concerned about governance and equity issues (in terms of how nanotechnology is controlled) as they were about the environmental and health implications
*Where nanotechnology was described in the media, it tended to be either framed in commercial terms, or in basic, scientific, didactic terms for education and outreach. Both of these representations reduce the chances for nanotechnology risks, of any kind, to be discussed, and is at odds with policy measures of nanotechnology public engagement in other countries
*Official nanotechnology texts were low in dialogicality, that is, expressing multiple voices and views on the topic; new media approaches provided more opportunities for dialogue
*the concept of nanotechnology as an entity was important, for young participants in particular
*levels of attendance to events were low for the open-invitation focus group and the citizens? jury pilot in particular.

Nano-Innovation discourses are growing while there is little public or media interest. This project offers a menu of dialogue models for policymakers to address the many objectives of nanotechnology communications strategy, from less dialogic information transfer to public-led dialogue and the public imagining of a future with nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology will have many social implications. There is much work to be done to ensure nanotechnology public engagement be taken seriously in Ireland. This report confirms what has also been found in international studies of science and society - public engagement requires two-way communication models, and combined public/ scientists' expectations future technologies. Without public acceptance, there will be a difficult economic case for nanotechnology. This report recommends that, for a more inclusive approach to nanotechnology knowledge in future consultation or technology assessment for emerging controversial technologies - and to avoid a situation such as that which created public opposition to GM foods - dialogue must form the basis of the communication strategy with embedded triple-bottom-line values, that is, where society and environment are given the same level of importance currently granted to economy.

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Contact Information for This Resource

Dr. Padraig Murphy
Dublin City University

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Attachment Name and Download Link
Offline Print Quality Version    STRIVE_61_Nano_Murphy_prn.pdf  (1.56 Mb)
Project Report Optimised For Online Viewing    STRIVE_61_Nano_Murphy_web.pdf  (0.95 Mb)

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Author(s)Murphy, P.
Title Of WebsiteSecure Archive For Environmental Research Data
Publication InformationNanotechnology: public engagement with health, environmental and social issues
Name of OrganisationEnvironmental Protection Agency Ireland
Electronic Address or URL
Unique Identifier3c3fb72d-7f47-102d-b891-8d8f2407b579
Date of AccessLast Updated on SAFER: 2024-06-24

An example of this citation in proper usage:

Murphy, P.   "Nanotechnology: public engagement with health, environmental and social issues". Associated datasets and digitial information objects connected to this resource are available at: Secure Archive For Environmental Research Data (SAFER) managed by Environmental Protection Agency Ireland (Last Accessed: 2024-06-24)


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Access Information For This Resource

SAFER-Data Display URL
Resource KeywordsNanotechnology, risk, public engagement, responsible innovation, STS, dialogicality
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project Code2007-FS-EH-1-M5
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project ThemeEnvironment and Health
Resource Availability: Any User Can Download Files From This Resource
Limitations on the use of this ResourceStandard citation of EPA ERC-SAFER datasets please
Number of Attached Files (Publicly and Openly Available for Download): 2
Project Start Date Monday 1st October 2007 (01-10-2007)
Earliest Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 1st October 2007 (01-10-2007)
Most Recent Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Thursday 31st December 2009 (31-12-2009)
Published on SAFERFriday 12th March 2010 (12-03-2010)
Date of Last EditTuesday 18th January 2011 at 08:24:47 (18-01-2011)
Datasets or Files Updated On Tuesday 18th January 2011 at 08:24:47 (18-01-2011)

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Geographical and Spatial Information Related To This Resource

Description of Geographical Characteristics of This Project or Dataset
DCU; Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin; Colaiste Lorcain, Castledermot, Co. Kildare, Ireland; Loreto College, Swords, Co Dublin, Ireland; Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, Dublin , Ireland.

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Supplementary Information About This Resource

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Lineage information about this project or dataset
The rationale for this project was the lack of public awareness of, and public input into, processes of nanoscience and nanotechnology development in Ireland, currently a 'hot topic' in science, technology and innovation. A mainly qualitative study was carried out, using science museum installations, webspaces, and focus groups, developed for this project. Also secondary data was 'grey literature', newspaper coverage, and web content. An awareness survey was also used.
The project fits within current science and technology studies (STS) approach to nanotechnology public engagement worldwide.
Supplementary Information
This project uses a qualitative, science and technology studies approach to finding out how people respond to the idea of nanotechnology. As a qualitative report, using sociological methods, all aspects of the project life cycle was considered for data collection. This includes recorded transcripts from public engagement activities, the text from ?posters? on an online forum, video respondents on Youtube to a Science Gallery installation, policy documents, newspaper articles, ethnographic notes from school or activity site visits.
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