Nanotechnology Morally Unacceptable?

Nano-gear ban signNew survey results show that only 29.5 percent in a sample of 1,015 adult Americans consider nanotech morally acceptable. Europe ranked significantly higher. The hypothesized reason? Religious beliefs.

The results of the survey were presented by Dietram Scheufele, professors of life sciences and communication, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 15th, 2008. Scheufele conducted the survey in liaison with his colleague Elizabeth Corley of Arizona State University (ASU).

According to Scheufele the participants of the survey were well informed about the benefits and nature of nanotechnology. This would include the potential to prolong our lives, cure diseases (nanotech is already improving our medicine), the immense impact on technology et cetera. Yet, oppose it they did.

Only 29.5% of 1,015 adult Americans considered nanotech morally acceptable

In a sample of 1,015 adult Americans, only 29.5 percent of respondents agreed that nanotechnology was morally acceptable.

In European surveys that posed identical questions about nanotechnology to people in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, significantly higher percentages of people accepted the moral validity of the technology. In the United Kingdom, 54.1 percent found nanotechnology to be morally acceptable. In Germany, 62.7 percent had no moral qualms about nanotechnology, and in France 72.1 percent of survey respondents saw no problems with the technology. [via ScienceDaily with ScienceDaily]

I imagine the percentage of people who find it acceptable would be even higher in Iceland, given the results of a 2005 survey of acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (Icelanders rank number one, see National Geographic’s chart).


Why the difference between Europeans and Americans?

The answer, Scheufele believes, is religion: “The United States is a country where religion plays an important role in peoples’ lives. The importance of religion in these different countries that shows up in data set after data set parallels exactly the differences we’re seeing in terms of moral views. European countries have a much more secular perspective.”

The catch for Americans with strong religious convictions, Scheufele believes, is that nanotechnology, biotechnology and stem cell research are lumped together as means to enhance human qualities. In short, researchers are viewed as “playing God” when they create materials that do not occur in nature, especially where nanotechnology and biotechnology intertwine, says Scheufele.

There are two things we must note. The first is that this is Sceufele’s educated guess. The second is that convergence of nano- and biotechnology can in some cases involve animal testing — which might play a part in people’s answers.

But given that the participants of the study were aware of how nanotechnology could catapult mankind’s well-being, and I dare say all the animal kingdom, Sceufele’s assumption sounds reasonable. Unfortunately.

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