Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 13, Issue 12, pp 7041–7055 | Cite as

Leading US nano-scientists’ perceptions about media coverage and the public communication of scientific research findings

  • Elizabeth A. Corley
  • Youngjae Kim
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
Research Paper


Despite the significant increase in the use of nanotechnology in academic research and commercial products over the past decade, there have been few studies that have explored scientists’ perceptions and attitudes about the technology. In this article, we use survey data from the leading U.S. nano-scientists to explore their perceptions about two issues: the public communication of research findings and media coverage of nanotechnology, which serves as one relatively rapid outlet for public communication. We find that leading U.S. nano-scientists do see an important connection between the public communication of research findings and public attitudes about science. Also, there is a connection between the scientists’ perceptions about media coverage and their views on the timing of public communication; scientists with positive attitudes about the media are more likely to support immediate public communication of research findings, while others believe that communication should take place only after research findings have been published through a peer-review process. We also demonstrate that journalists might have a more challenging time getting scientists to talk with them about nanotechnology news stories because nano-scientists tend to view media coverage of nanotechnology as less credible and less accurate than general science media coverage. We conclude that leading U.S. nano-scientists do feel a sense of responsibility for communicating their research findings to the public, but attitudes about the timing and the pathway of that communication vary across the group.


Nanotechnology Perceptions Scientist attitudes Media coverage Public communication Survey data collection Societal implications ELSI 



This material is based on work supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (SES-0531194) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School (135GL82). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF or the UW-Madison Graduate School. The authors would also like to thank Hans Peter Peters at the Forschungszentrum Jülich (Germany) for allowing them to replicate some questions from one of his previous surveys (Peters et al. 2008).


  1. AAPOR (2009) Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys, 6th edn. AAPOR, LenexaGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson A, Allan S, Petersen A, Wilkinson C (2005) The framing of nanotechnologies in the British newspaper press. Sci Commun 27(2):200–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barke RP, JenkinsSmith H, Slovic P (1997) Risk perceptions of men and women scientists. Soc Sci Q 78(1):167–176Google Scholar
  4. Berube DM (2008) Rhetorical gamesmanship in the nano debates over sunscreens and nanoparticles. J Nanopart Res 10:23–37. doi: 10.1007/s11051-008-9362-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bostrom A, Lofstedt RE (2010) Nanotechnology risk communication past and prologue. Risk Anal 30(11):1645–1662. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01521.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown S (2009) The new deficit model. Nat Nanotechnol 4(10):608–610. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2009.278 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Corley EA, Scheufele DA, Hu Q (2009) Of risks and regulations: how leading US nano-scientists form policy stances about nanotechnology. J Nanopart Res 11(7):1573–1585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davies SR (2008) Constructing communication: talking to scientists about talking to the public. Sci Commun 29(4):413–434. doi: 10.1177/1075547009316222 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dibella SM, Ferri AJ, Padderud AB (1991) Scientists’ reasons for consenting to mass media interviews: a national survey. Journal Q 68(4):740–749Google Scholar
  10. Dillman DA, Smyth JD, Christian LM (2008) Internet mail, and mixed-mode surveys: the tailored design method. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  11. Dunwoody S, Ryan M (1983) Public information persons as mediators between scientists and journalists. Journal Q 60(4):647–656Google Scholar
  12. Dunwoody S, Scott BT (1982) Scientists as mass media sources. Journal Q 59(1):52–59Google Scholar
  13. Finucane ML, Slovic P, Mertz C, Flynn J, Satterfield TA (2000) Gender, race, and perceived risk: the ‘white male’ effect. Health Risk Soc 2(2):159–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flynn J, Slovic P, Mertz CK (1994) Gender, race, and perception of environmental health risks. Risk Anal 14(6):1101–1108. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1994.tb00082.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frewer LJ, Hunt S, Brennan M, Kuznesof S, Ness M, Ritson C (2003) The views of scientific experts on how the public conceptualize uncertainty. J Risk Res 6(1):75–85. doi: 10.1080/1366987032000047815 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gascoigne T, Metcalfe J (1997) Incentives and impediments to scientists communicating through the media. Sci Commun 18(3):265–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Geller G, Bernhardt BA, Gardner M, Rodgers J, Holtzman NA (2005) Scientists’ and science writers’ experiences reporting genetic discoveries: toward an ethic of trust in science journalism. Genet Med 7(3):198–205. doi: 10.1097/01.gim.0000156699.78856.23 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glass B (1993) The ethical basis of science. In: RE B, Reiser S EH (eds) The ethical dimensions of the biological sciences. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 43–55Google Scholar
  19. Greenberg MR, Schneider DF (1995) Gender differences in risk perception: effects differ in stressed vs non-stressed environments. Risk Anal 15(4):503–511. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1995.tb00343.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gunter B, Kinderlerer J, Beyleveld D (1999) The media and public understanding of biotechnology: a survey of scientists and journalists. Sci Commun 20(4):373–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gustafson PE (1998) Gender differences in risk perception: theoretical and methodological perspectives. Risk Anal 18(6):805–811CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hartz J, Chappell R (1997) Worlds apart: how the distance between science and journalism threatens America’s future. First Amendment Center, NashvilleGoogle Scholar
  23. Kraus N, Malmfors T, Slovic P (1992) Intuitive toxicology: expert and lay judgments of chemical risks. Risk Anal 12(2):215–232. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1992.tb00669.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kurath M, Gisler P (2009) Informing, involving or engaging? Science communication, in the ages of atom-, bio- and nanotechnology. Public Underst Sci 18(5):559–573. doi: 10.1177/0963662509104723 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lazo JK, Kinnell JC, Fisher A (2000) Expert and layperson perceptions of ecosystem risk. Risk Anal 20(2):179–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lievrouw L (1993) Communication and the social representation of scientific knowledge. Crit Stud Mass Commun 7:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maille ME, Saint-Charles J, Lucotte M (2010) The gap between scientists and journalists: the case of mercury science in Quebec’s press. Public Underst Sci 19(1):70–79. doi: 10.1177/0963662509102690 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marchant G, Sylvester D (2006) Transnational models for regulation of nanotechnology. J Law Med Ethics 34(4):714–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Marchant G, Sylvester D, Abbott K (2007) Nanotechnology regulation: the United States approach. In: Hodge G, Bowman D, Ludlow K (eds) New global frontiers in regulation: the age of nanotechnology. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UKGoogle Scholar
  30. Marchant G, Sylvester D, Abbott K (2009) A new soft law approach to nanotechnology oversight: a voluntary product certification scheme. UCLA J Environ Law Policy 28(1):123–152Google Scholar
  31. Mathews DJH, Kalfoglou A, Hudson K (2005) Geneticists’ views on science policy formation and public outreach. Am J Med Genet A 137A(2):161–169. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.30849 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McInerney C, Bird N, Nucci M (2004) The flow of scientific knowledge from lab to the lay public: the case of genetically modified food. Sci Commun 26(1):44–74. doi: 10.1177/1075547004267024 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mellor F (2010) Negotiating uncertainty: asteroids, risk and the media. Public Underst Sci 19(1):16–33. doi: 10.1177/0963662507087307 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore B, Singletary M (1985) Scientific sources’ perceptions of network news accuracy. Journal Q 62(4):816–823Google Scholar
  35. Nelkin D (1996) An uneasy relationship: the tensions between medicine and the media. Lancet 347(9015):1600–1603CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nisbet MC, Scheufele DA (2009) What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. Am J Bot 96(10):1767–1778. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0900041 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nisbet MC, Scheufele DA, Shanahan J, Moy P, Brossard D, Lewenstein BV (2002) Knowledge, reservations, or promise? A media effects model for public perceptions of science and technology. Commun Res 29(5):584–608. doi: 10.1177/009365002236196 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Peters HP (1995) The interaction of journalists and scientific experts: co-operation and conflict between two professional cultures. Media Cult Soc 17(1):31–48. doi: 10.1177/016344395017001003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Peters HP, Brossard D, de Cheveigné S, Dunwoody S, Kallfass M, Miller S, Tsuchida S (2008) Science communication: interactions with the mass media. Science 321(5886):204–205Google Scholar
  40. Petersen A, Anderson A, Wilkinson C, Allan S (2007) Nanotechnologies, risk and society. Health Risk Soc 9(2):117–124. doi: 10.1080/13698570701306765 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Petersen A, Anderson A, Allan S, Wilkinson C (2009) Opening the black box: scientists’ views on the role of the news media in the nanotechnology debate. Public Underst Sci 18(5):512–530. doi: 10.1177/0963662507084202 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Phillips DP, Kanter EJ, Bednarczyk B, Tastad PL (1991) Importance of the lay press in the transmission of medical knowledge to the scientific community. N Engl J Med 325(16):1180–1183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pidgeon N, Rogers-Hayden T (2007) Opening up nanotechnology dialogue with the publics: risk communication or ‘upstream engagement’? Health Risk Soc 9(2):191–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pitkethly M (2009) Nanotechnology, regulation and the environment. Mater Today 12(1–2):23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Porter AL, Youtie J, Shapira P, Schoeneck DJ (2008) Refining search terms for nanotechnology. J Nanopart Res 10(5):715–728CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Powell MC, Griffin MPA, Tai S (2008) Bottom-up risk regulation? How nanotechnology risk knowledge gaps challenge federal and state environmental agencies. Environ Manage 42(3):426–443. doi: 10.1007/s00267-008-9129-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rabino I (1998) Societal and commercial issues affecting the future of biotechnology in the United States: a survey of researchers’ perceptions. Naturwissenschaften 85(3):109–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reinert K, Andrews L, Keenan R (2006) Nanotechnology Nexus: intersection of research, science, technology, and regulation. Hum Ecol Risk Assess 12(5):811–818. doi: 10.1080/10807030600848601 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ruth A, Lundy L, Telg R, Irani T (2005) Trying to relate: media relations training needs of agricultural scientists. Sci Commun 27(1):127–145. doi: 10.1177/1075547005278347 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Scheufele DA, Corley EA, Dunwoody S, Shih T-j, Hillback E, Guston DH (2007) Scientists worry about some risks more than the public. Nature Nanotechnol 2(12):732–734Google Scholar
  51. Slovic P, Malmfors T, Krewski D, Mertz CK, Neil N, Bartlett S (1995) Intuitive toxicology. II. Expert and lay judgments of chemical risks in Canada. Risk Anal 15(6):661–675. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1995.tb01338.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Suleski J, Ibaraki M (2010) Scientists are talking, but mostly to each other: a quantitative analysis of research represented in mass media. Public Underst Sci 19(1):115–125. doi: 10.1177/0963662508096776 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Treise D, Weigold MF (2002) Advancing science communication: a survey of science communicators. Sci Commun 23(3):310–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tyshenko MG, Farhat N, Lewis R, Shilnikova N (2010) Applying a precautionary risk management strategy for regulation of nanotechnology. Int J Nanotechnol 7(2–3):243–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wardak A, Gorman ME, Swami N, Rejeski D (2007) Environmental regulation of nanotechnology and the TSCA. IEEE Technol Soc Mag 26(2):48–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weigold MF (2001) Communicating science: a review of the literature. Sci Commun 23(2):164–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth A. Corley
    • 1
  • Youngjae Kim
    • 1
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Public AffairsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  2. 2.Department of Life Sciences CommunicationUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations