Project Overview

NIRT: Intuitive Toxicology and Public Engagement

# 0709056
David Berube (Principal Investigator)
Jennifer Kuzma (Co-Principal Investigator)
Dietram Scheufele (Co-Principal Investigator)
Kevin Elliott (Co-Principal Investigator)
Pat Gehrke (Co-Principal Investigator)

Introduction. It is well documented that inexpert audiences reason and react differently than experts when exposed to information about toxicological risks, but almost none of the existing studies have examined how the public and experts react differently to risks associated specifically with the applied nanosciences. To address this weakness, we propose to reveal which factors are most significant in affecting public perception of the risks of applied nanosciences and what, if any, relationship exists between the modes of public deliberation, sources of information (e.g. use of new media), and the effects of new information on risk perception. Five methodological stages are proposed: refine and develop key variables and instruments (stage 1), determine the contribution of variables to perceived risk (stage 2), elucidate the effect of civic engagement and new media on risk perception (stage 3), verify key variables related to risk perception (stage 4), and provide outreach to the public (stage 5). Stage 1 will be accomplished by hosting an interdisciplinary conference to isolate key variables and to produce appropriate instruments with which we can assess public perceptions of the risks of applied nanosciences. After refining our methodology based on the proceedings of the conference, we will conduct a set of Delphi rounds to determine what are the differences between public and expert perceptions of the risks of applied nanosciences (stage 2), paying particular attention to differences based on sources of information and variables that amplify or attenuate perceptions of risk. Drawing on the findings of the Delphi rounds, the research team will hold civic engagement events (stage 3), bringing together non-expert citizens and a variety of experts. Observation and coding of the events will address the effect of civic engagement on public and expert perceptions of risk. We will test whether a relationship exists between modes of deliberative interaction and changes in perceptions of risk, as influenced by the new media as a source of information on risk and deliberative interaction. For stage 4, focus groups on the use of nanoscience in food preparation and packaging) will verify and narrow the key variables that affect public perception of the risk of applied nanosciences. For the final stage (5), this project concludes with a workshop to report conclusions and generate criticisms and future directions for research.

Intellectual Merit. This project will produce an especially timely heuristic for the projection of public responses to applied nanosciences, given issues of toxicity, roles of new media, and applies its theoretical findings to a case instant examining public perception to nanotoxicity issues and agri-food.

Broader Impact. The results will reveal specific variables and combinations of variables that affect public perceptions of the risks of applied nanosciences equipping policymakers, researchers, industry, and public participants with a greater capacity for productive public engagements and discussions about how to respond to those risks. This work will impact public awareness and provide us with the essential guidance to better enable future communication on the risks of nanotechnology and models for effective civic engagement. This project examines the educational, economic, social, organization, and ethical changes associated with support for, design of, and results from inventions and innovations involve active nanostructures and nanosystems.

Source: NSF