Nanotechnologies: Where should they take us? Have your say

A massive European wide Opinion poll shows citizens positive about science and technology, cautious about consequences


A massive European wide Opinion poll shows citizens positive about science and technology, cautious about consequences

Fri, 29 Nov 2013
by Jon Turney, science writer, editor, lecturer;

Every couple of years the European Commission pays for a community-wide opinion survey that includes questions on science. This time round, the poll is presented as an indicator of attitudes to “Responsible Research and Innovation” (RRI), the idea the Commission now endorses as a way of helping ensure that new technology is in line with what we all want.

The poll accumulated a massive amount of data from 27,000 people in every member state of the EU. It gives a snapshot at a high level of issues which projects like nanOpinion are probing more deeply on the ground in relation to the details of particular new technologies.

Not surprisingly, the results are said to show that people are in favour of RRI. (Hands up all those who favour irresponsible research and innovation. No-one? I thought so.) The idea was framed indirectly, partly because the pollsters wanted to compare response to questions asked in previous rounds of Eurobarometer.

So we find that 77 per cent of people who answered believe that science and technology have a positive impact, overall, but a smaller majority (55 per cent) also believe that public dialogue is required for decisions on science and technology. And many also admit to worries about the speed of change. More than 60 per cent think that science and technology changes life too fast.

On RRI more directly, three quarters agree that the EU should take into account the ethical risk of new technologies. Ethical risks might be, for example, threats to human rights, so in the context of nanotechnologies the might translate, for example, into increased surveillance by nanodrones or failure to protect medical data gathered by biosensors carried in the body.

One direct intervention favoured by a large majority of Europeans (more than 80 per cent) is mandatory ethics training for researchers, though we are not told what form ths might take, and an oath to be taken by young scientists to respect ethical principles.

As in previous Eurobarometer polls, there are quite big differences in responses between countries, and between broad regions in the EU. There is a gradient on most questions with the Scandinavian countries (Denmark Finland, Sweden) typically at the top on measures of positive feeling about science and confidence in how new science and technology are handled and the numbers declining as you move South and/or West.

Take, for example, the question whether people think that government representatives try to behave responsibly towards science and technology. Confidence here generally is low – 44 per cent think they do and 49 per cent say they don’t, on average. But the headline figure breaks down to show that 70 per cent of people responding in Sweden think their governments are pretty responsible about science and technology, but only 29 per cent think so in Spain and 40 per cent in Greece.

Like all polls, it is tempting to speculate on the reasons for such differences. Are they historical or social and cultural, or a mixture? Does the current parlous economic situation in Spain and Greece go along with a loss of faith in government in general, for instance? On the other hand, an economic slump might make people look to technological innovation as one of the ingredients in a plan for new growth.

It will be interesting to see whether similar differences show up when the responses nanOpinions has gathered are analysed in full, as well as to consider what more we can say about how people conceive resonsibility in research and innovation. Keep those questionnaires coming!

You can find a press release summarising the Eurobarometer results on RRI here, and the full report of the poll in PDF (215pp) here.


The comments in this section are moderated in order to avoid spam.

Share your opinion and your experiences

This blog is a meeting point for Nanopinion participants to share their experiences and to engage in a dialogue on the ethical, legal and social aspects of the topics tackled.

It is an opportunity to tell us what you think and to share it with people from all over Europe.

Participate in the blog

European competition for high schools

  • Poll of the month
    Are you interested in current information on new nanoproducts on the market?

About nanopinion

  • nanopinion is an EC-funded project bringing together 17 partners from 11 countries with the aim of monitoring public opinion on what we hope from innovation with nanotechnologies. The project is aimed citizens with a special focus on hard-to-reach target groups, which are people who do not normally encounter and give their opinion nanotechnologies at first hand.
  • Dialogue is facilitated online and in outreach events in 30 countries presenting different participatory formats.
  • To promote an informed debate, we also run a strong press & social media campaign and offer a repository with more than 150 resources.
read more

Who we are Project partners