Washington, D.C. -
12/18/2007 - U.S. newspaper and wire service coverage of questions about nanotechnology risks rose dramatically last year, according to findings of a new study presented at a Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies event. The number of U.S. risk-focused stories rose 58 percent--from 36 in 2005 to 57 in 2006.
More important is the fact that the study, conducted by Professor Sharon M. Friedman of Lehigh University, showed that issues about government regulation increasingly are getting more media attention. In 2006, more articles on regulation appeared than in all of 2000-2005 combined. In comparison with past years, press coverage of concerns about nanotechnology risks is starting to move away from individual science research results -- for example, about the toxicity of nanoparticles in fish -- and toward larger issues like the government's ability to safely oversee this rapidly commercializing, cutting-edge technology.
"While the number of media articles raising concerns about nanotechnology risks is still small, it is growing, and there was a shift in the type of reporting in 2006," said Friedman. "Officials from the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies are more and more being asked to answer questions about the federal government's ability to regulate possible nanotechnology risk like the 'nano-readiness' of existing laws, sufficient resources and adequate safety research." In collaboration with Brenda P. Egolf, a research scientist at Lehigh, Friedman has tracked seven years of newspaper and wire service coverage of nanotechnology risks in the United States and United Kingdom.
"Nanotechnology is turning the world upside down by enabling amazing new drugs, electronic devices, and consumer products. Press coverage reflects that increasingly doubts are being raised about whether government is up to the job of nanotechnology environment and health oversight. Stories are focused on whether 20th century regulation is ready for a 21st century technology and marketplace," noted Julia Moore, Deputy Director of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
Friedman's presentation, Changing Patterns of Mass Media Coverage of Nanotechnology's Risks, is available at www.nanotechproject.org.
Prof. Friedman is Director of the Science and Environmental Writing Program and Associate Dean at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1-100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a flea is roughly 1 million nanometers wide. More than $50 billion in nanotechnology products were sold in 2006. By 2014, Lux Research projects that $2.6 trillion in manufactured goods will incorporate nanotechnology--about 15 percent of total global output.
The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is an initiative launched by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2005. It is dedicated to helping business, government and the public anticipate and manage possible health and environmental implications of nanotechnology.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, visit the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies on PewHealth.org.