Chinese Public and Nanoresearchers’ Perceptions of Benefits and Risks of Nanotechnology

NanoEthics 13 (3):155-171 (2019)
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Public and experts’ perceptions of benefits and risks of nanotechnology constitute an important element of nanoethics studies. On the one hand, compared with traditional ethics, nanoethics is a future-oriented ethics. The construction of ethical norms requires public participation. On the other hand, nanotechnology is characterized by uncertainty. Our previous research showed the Chinese public’s support for nanotechnology was associated more with beliefs, including views of technology and the weighing of benefits and risks of nanotechnology, and less with knowledge about nanotechnology; the support was high but might change over time. Meanwhile, Chinese researchers have been actively conducting studies on nanotechnology while being highly aware of nanosafety issues. In this context, we further examined in the present study Chinese nanoresearchers’ perceptions of specific benefits and risks of nanotechnology, compared them with those of the Chinese public, and examined the Chinese nanoresearchers’ perceptions of risks of specific nanoapplications. Initial cross-regional comparisons were made with results from equivalent US and European surveys. Results showed Chinese nanoresearchers perceived a higher level of overall nanobenefits than the public and an almost equal level of overall nanorisks with the public. Four nanorisks were perceived by a higher proportion of experts than public; the experts likely relied on technical expertise while the public, possessing little knowledge about nanotechnology, might have exercised caution based on experiences and observations of other technologies. Of 23 nanoapplications, Chinese nanoresearchers regarded food using nanomaterials as the most risky and displays using nanomaterials as the least risky. Similarities and differences were observed in comparisons of Chinese with US and European survey results. In our age of technology and economic globalization, this research is of significance both for China’s formulation of nanotechnology development strategies and for the further study on nanoethics and good governance of emerging technologies such as nanotechnology worldwide.



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