Risk Communication for Nanobiotechnology: To Whom, About What, and Why?

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 37 (4):759-769 (2009)
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Regulatory oversight and public communication are intimately intertwined. Oversight failures quickly galvanize media and public attention. In addition, regulations sometimes require that risks and uncertainties be included in communication efforts aimed at non-experts outside of the regulatory and policy communities — whether in obtaining informed consent for novel medical treatments; by including risk information on drug labels, in drug advertisements, or on chemicals used in the workplace; in providing nutritional information on food packages; or by opening environmental impact assessments to public comment. In recent decades, broad public input with respect to new technologies has also been sought “upstream” of hard policy decisions in the hope of ultimately gaining legitimacy for those decisions — and perhaps increasing their quality. When communication fails, oversight may also be seen as failing — rightly or wrongly. As part of a larger project organized by the University of Minnesota, this paper presents six models of public risk communication and uses those models to analyze the communication challenges facing nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology. Reviewing the communication dynamics associated with the historical cases of technology regulation with which this symposium issue is concerned helps shed light on the communications challenges facing nanobiotechnology



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