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Re-create an outline of the article provided for this week’s assignment. What guideline/outline would the authors of this article have created before they started to write the article. Your outline of this article would include the various sections of the paper such as an abstract, keywords, introduction etc. as well as subheadings and any figures/tables which were included. Very briefly summarize what information is in each section/subheading in no more than 2 sentences.


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J Nanopart Res (2019) 21: 86
What is the problem? A literature review on challenges
facing the communication of nanotechnology to the public
Åsa Boholm
Simon Larsson
Received: 18 January 2019 / Accepted: 4 April 2019 / Published online: 23 April 2019
# The Author(s) 2019
Abstract Ethical and societal issues concerning justice,
safety, risks, and benefits are well-established topics in
the discourses of nanotechnology innovation and development. That nanotechnology innovation should be socially and ethically responsible is generally accepted by
scientists, policymakers, regulators, and industry, and
the idea of public involvement and communication is
part and parcel of the conceptualization of responsible
technology development. This paper systematically reviews the social science research literature accumulated
between 2002 and 2018 on the communication of nanotechnology. A critical and constructivist perspective on
policy problems guides the analysis. Two questions are
asked of this literature: what problems are identified
regarding the communication of nanotechnology to the
public? How can these problems be managed and/or
resolved? Three different problem themes are identified:
the public, societal institutions, and nanotechnology
itself. While for some identified problems, there are
corresponding solutions; in other instances, there is little
alignment between problems and solutions. In conclusion, the paper recommends that in communicating
Å. Boholm (*)
School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 115,
SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden
S. Larsson
Gothenburg Research Institute, School of Business, Economics
and Law, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 603, SE 405
30 Göteborg, Sweden
nanotechnology to the public: (i) the objectives of communication should be defined; (ii) previous research
should be used responsibly; (iii) communication strategies should be adapted to the context; and (iv) effort
should not be spent trying to develop a generic framework for communication.
Keywords Responsible innovation . Nanotechnology .
Science communication . Upstream engagement .
Literature review
When nanotechnology hype began to mount almost two
decades ago, it was readily recognized that to reach its
full revolutionary potential, nanotechnology development had to be Bresponsible^ (Macnaghten 2010;
Pidgeon et al. 2011). The gigantic National
Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), established in the year
2000 in the United States (US), declared that
Bnanotechnology is helping to considerably improve,
even revolutionize, many technology and industry sectors: information technology, energy, environmental science, medicine, homeland security, food safety, and
transportation, among many others^ (NNI 2018a). The
responsible development of nanotechnology that addresses the ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) of
nanotechnology is one of the NNI’s four objectives,
understood to advance the other, i.e., research, commercialization, worker education, and public engagement.
The way ELSI is addressed is assumed to determine
86 Page 2 of 21
public trust and the future of innovation driven by
nanotechnology (NNI 2018b).
The NNI has served as a role model for other countries
aspiring to compete in cutting-edge nanotechnology development. The responsible development of technology is
currently a widely accepted ideal in European Union
(EU) research and innovation policies (Coenen 2016). It
is generally accepted by scientists, policymakers, regulators, and industry that issues concerning environmental
impact, health, and safety should be addressed responsibly,
ensuring that any new technology benefits society. ELSI
has therefore become an important consideration in innovation (Coenen 2016). According to this ideal of technology innovation, the societal need for technology, technology regulation, and risk management and safety, as well as
ethical implications must be thoroughly addressed
(Pidgeon et al. 2011: 1696).
The ideal of the responsible development of nanotechnology implies sensitivity to public perceptions and public
trust at an early stage of technology development (Breggin
and Carothers 2006). Responsible technology development is further understood to have the capacity to counteract failure due to public lack of acceptance of, or opposition to, new technology. Already at an early stage of
innovation, US scientists and policymakers worried that
the public might turn against nanotechnology (Friedman
and Egolf 2005). This is what happened in Europe with
genetically modified organisms (GMOs): concern over
risk and the lack of trust in science, experts, and regulators
were factors that turned the public against the technology
as such, the industry, and the products (Wynne 2001). For
history not to repeat itself in the form of public distrust of
regulatory agencies and scientific experts, consumer boycotts of products and companies, citizen pressure on
policymakers and regulators, and amplification of risks in
the media, foresight and sensitivity to public concern have
been recurrent mantras regarding the development of
nanotechnology (Sylvester et al. 2009). It has been argued
that developers and industry, as well as policymakers and
regulators, must be aware of possible public concerns and
of the societal dynamics of media and interest groups
before they manifest as protests and social movements
(David and Thompson 2011).
Upstream engagement in nanotechnology, i.e., early
public involvement in the processes of technology development and innovation, as well as the public provision of relevant and correct information regarding nanotechnology, has been envisaged as the road forward
(Pidgeon et al. 2017; Rogers-Hayden et al. 2007).
J Nanopart Res (2019) 21: 86
Social scientists have argued that technology should be
democratically governed, which calls for Breflexive^
learning processes to develop Bscientific citizenship,^
reflexive governance, and citizen capacity in science
(Miah 2017; Pidgeon and Rogers-Hayden 2007: 203).
Communication with the public is generally agreed to be
necessary for upstream engagement (Priest 2012), understood as part and parcel of the social regulation of
nanotechnology (Pidgeon et al. 2017; Priest 2009: 761).
The responsible development of nanotechnology to
safeguard the environment, human health, and safety,
and to ensure that the new technology benefits society, is
understood to require citizen involvement, dialog, and
participation. If we look more closely into the literature
on the Bcommunication of nanotechnology to the
public,^ several broad communicative goals can be
identified (Delgado et al. 2011). Pidgeon and RogersHayden (2007: 192) suggested three arguments for public engagement. The normative argument postulates that
dialog is a good thing in itself: it is part of democracy
and allows room for public values and attitudes in
decision-making. The instrumental argument proposes
that dialog with the public increases the legitimacy of
decisions and enhances trust. The substantive argument
claims that dialog creates better decisions and outcomes.
The normative objectives of public inclusion and deliberation imply broad consultation with stakeholders and
the public as well as foresight and reflexivity concerning
ethical and legal issues. From this normative position,
dialog and public participation are essential values related to innovation, and all these activities rely on information exchange and the understanding of messages.
Since the mid-1990s when the field emerged, considerable social science research into nanotechnology has
been published. Policymakers have understood social
science to be essential in grasping the dynamics of
public attitudes and perceptions and in forming a basis
for developing effective tools for gaining public acceptance of nanotechnology innovation (Ebbesen 2008).
Social science research on nanotechnology is multidisciplinary, including sociology, psychology, political science, social anthropology, science and technology studies, and media and communication studies. The accumulated research has provided many insights into how
nanotechnology is perceived by the public, how it is
represented by the media, how media information affects public perceptions, and how policy is formed and
developed. Many studies have been conducted in the
US, the EU, and elsewhere (for overviews of the field,
J Nanopart Res (2019) 21: 86
see Duncan 2011; Kahan 2009; Priest 2012; Ronteltap
et al. 2011; Satterfield et al. 2009; Siegrist 2010).
This paper aims to present an overview of the research literature on the communication of nanotechnology to the public between 2002 and 2018. We will
systematically identify the problems defined and solutions suggested in this research. We contribute by providing an extensive overview of the communication of
nanotechnology to the public. By adopting a holistic
critical and constructivist approach, this exercise provides a stepping stone to further research and policy
work on what socially Bresponsible^ nanotechnology
innovation and development might mean and how it
might be implemented. The study also contributes to
the general discussion of science communication
concerning new technology.
Method, research questions, and analytical
This paper presents a literature review of published
peer-reviewed papers (listed in the references) that address the topic of the communication of nanotechnology
to the public. The papers were identified through a
search in the Scopus publication database conducted in
February 2018 and through ongoing searches in Google
Scholar. The search terms have been Bnano^ in conjunction with Bcommunication,^ Bpublic,^ Bparticipation,^
Bengagement,^ and Bdialog^ to appear in title, abstract,
keywords, or main body of text. Altogether, 62 different
published journal articles were identified. All 62 papers
meeting the search criteria were included in the sample.
The oldest study was published in 2002 and the latest in
2018. Some papers explicitly address nanotechnology
communication and have Bcommunication^ among
their keywords, whereas in others, the presence of the
topic is less explicit. Many of the papers address communication issues in their discussion sections, where the
implications of research findings for practice, regulation, or policy are considered. The papers were published in a broad range of multidisciplinary journals,
though four dominate the sample (in order of frequency): Journal of Nanoparticle Research, Risk Analysis:
An International Journal, Public Understanding of
Science, and Nanoethics. The literature review is not
claimed to be exhaustive, but the sample presents a
broad range of published research papers giving ample
Page 3 of 21 86
insight into what scholars discuss when addressing the
communication of nanotechnology to the public.
The analysis was inspired by Carol Bacchi’s (1999,
2012) approach to policy analysis. Her analytical and
theoretical framework sees policy embedded in a discursive construct that, implicitly or explicitly, establishes problems in need of policy intervention via management and mitigation. From this perspective,
problematizations that underlie policy are understood
as often taken for granted: they are accepted as Btruths^
beyond questioning (Bacchi 2012). The BWhat is a
problem?^ approach allows for the systematic deconstruction and scrutiny of the underlying assumptions of
policy problems. The analysis brings these assumptions
into the open, enabling a critical approach to policy that
can be applied both theoretically and in practical policy
According to Bacchi (1999), all problems with policy
implications have a generic structure: something is identified as a problem for some reason, and then is isolated,
defined, and characterized with regard to its causes and
consequences. Defining the problem entails choosing
certain elements, characteristics, and causal explanations while excluding others. Some elements are
foregrounded while others are backgrounded. Since
the problem definition and its characterization include
causal assumptions about how the problem came into
existence, the problem definition paves the way for
solutions. Problem definitions and solutions are conceptually related since solutions are often logically and
rationally contained in the problem framing
(Lancaster and Ritter 2014). However, in policy
work, this is not always the case: problems and
solutions can be decoupled without any logical
relationship between the two. The identification
of a solution may also sometimes preclude the
definition of a problem.
The research questions addressed to the literature
were developed from the BWhat is a problem?^ approach to policy analysis. The questions answer to the
overall aim of providing a systematic and critical analysis of the social science research field of nanotechnology and public communication. Each article in the sample of 62 papers was read and analyzed with regard to
the following questions:
1. How is the problem of the Bcommunication of
nanotechnology to the public^ conceptualized,
characterized, and explained?
86 Page 4 of 21
2. What solutions are offered to the problem of the
Bcommunication of nanotechnology to the public^?
3. What is the relationship between the constructions
of problems and of solutions concerning the
Bcommunication of nanotechnology to the public^?
The relationship between problem and solution was
not analyzed at the level of the individual paper. Far
from all papers did provide answers to all three questions. The analysis of the individual papers adds up to a
meta-analysis of the material.
The remainder of the paper is organized into the
following parts: (1) BBackground: what do we know
about public understanding of nanotechnology?^ summarizes the main findings regarding public attitudes and
perceptions necessary to understand how the problem of
nanotechnology communication is discussed; (2) BThe
problem of communicating nanotechnology to the
public^ addresses problems and obstacles identified in
the reviewed literature (this section explicitly addresses
communication problems, categorizing them so that the
problems can be juxtaposed to the proposed solutions in
the next section); (3) BSolutions for the communication
of nanotechnology to the public^ offers solutions and
recommendations identified in the reviewed literature
for the successful communication of nanotechnology;
(4) BDiscussion^ treats these findings in relation to the
research field; and (5) BConclusions^ wraps up the
review and suggests ways forward.
Background: what do we know about public
understanding of nanotechnology?
This section summarizes social science findings essential to communicating nanotechnology to the public. In
this section, the lessons from previous research are
divided into the following themes: (i) public knowledge
and attitudes and (ii) factors explaining public attitudes.
The reviewed studies were carried out in different countries using different methodologies; while most used
surveys and quantitative analysis, others relied on qualitative methods, such as interviews or focus groups.
There are differences in theoretical and analytical framework for the studies, and their research designs differ,
including case studies, experimental, cross-sectional,
and even longitudinal research designs. The results are
therefore not immediately comparable (Ronteltap et al.
2011). Our aim with the review was not to evaluate or
J Nanopart Res (2019) 21: 86
discuss why there are differences between studies.
Differences in findings can be explained by a number
of factors: theoretical assumptions, hypothesis, and research design, of data collection and analysis, conceptual differences (Ronteltap et al. 2011), for example, in
how trust is defined and operationalized. Sample characteristics also differ a lot. Studies are done on public
understanding in different countries, with different regulatory frameworks, and with considerable institutional
and cultural differences. These differences also explain
diverging findings. Our objective was to identify common main findings regarding public understanding of
nanotechnology, since such findings serve as a reference
point for formulations of problems and solutions in the
investigated sample of papers.
Public knowledge, attitude, interest, and engagement
Many studies have noted that the public lacks knowledge of nanotechnology and is unfamiliar with its basic
concepts and principles (Castellini et al. 2007; Delgado
et al. 2011; Larsson and Boholm 2018; Lin et al. 2013;
Macoubrie 2006; Retzbach et al. 2011; Vandermoere
et al. 2010). Although there are some national variations, studies in a number of countries confirm this
result. One of the first studies of public attitudes toward
nanotechnology (Bainbridge 2002) found that the public
had a high level of enthusiasm for the benefits of nanotechnology and little concern over risks, and later studies have confirmed this result, demonstrating that nanotechnology is perceived by the public as beneficial and
not associated with risk (Cobb and Macoubrie 2004;
Duncan 2011). Other studies have found that a considerable portion of the public is indifferent toward nanotechnology (Vandermoere et al. 2010). Another oftennoted finding is that the public is not homogeneous
(Kim et al. 2014: 967), but consists of many groups
and segments with different outlooks, values, and approaches to new technology (Cormick and Hunter 2014;
Duncan 2011).
Nanotechnology is generally not an issue that spurs
public engagement. Only a minority of citizens takes an
active interest in nanotechnology and how it should be
governed in society (Priest et al. 2011: 1731). When
they are concerned, members of the public are worried
about the societal implications of nanotechnology use,
its environmental effects (Conti et al. 2011), and whether its benefits will be fairly distributed (McComas and
Besley 2011). There are some concerns about how
J Nanopart Res (2019) 21: 86
nanotechnology products might affect society in the
future, as well as whether or not nanotechnology will
contribute to social and environmental sustainability
(Pidgeon and Rogers-Hayden 2007: 204–5). In general,
the public does not have stable preformed attitudes on
the subject of nanotechnology; rather, their attitudes are
prone to fluctuate depending on how the media frames
nanotechnology, current societal discussions of emerging applications, and their understanding of the benefits,
risks, and possible ethical concerns (Satterfield et al.
2009, 2012).
A growing number of studies addresses public attitudes
toward various applications of nanotechnology. Risks and
benefits are assessed differently depending on the area of
application (Pidgeon et al. 2009; Siegrist 2010). That
attitudes differ a lot depending on the area of application
is clear from many studies (Cacciatore et al. 2011;
Cormick 2009; Gupta et al. 2012, 2015; Larsson and
Boholm 2018; Pidgeon et al. 2009; Siegrist et al. 2007).
For example, people are more favorable toward nanotechnology applications to remedy water quality, nanotechnology developments in medicine, and nanotechnology addressing problems in developing countries (Macoubrie
2006: 237). Applications such as cosmetics, on the other
hand, are regarded as poorly justified and are generally not
approved (Larsson and Boholm 2018; Macoubrie 2006:
236). The public has been found to be skeptical or doubtful
toward nanotechnology in the food sector (Bostrom and
Löfstedt 2010: 1658; Duncan 2011; Siegrist et al. 2007;
Vandermoere et al. 2011).
Several studies focus on public views of the labeling
of nanoproducts, which is understood to be an important
regulatory tool to manage consumer products containing
nanomaterials (Siegrist 2010). Labeling is therefore expecte …
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