Poll: Scientists worried about nanotech for health and environment

  • Madison (WI) - A national telephone survey of American households, compared with a sampling of 363 leading nanotechnology scientists, has revealed an interesting factoid:  scientists are more concerned over the potential health and environmental hazards from nanotechnology than are regular citizens.  Are their concerns justified?

    The study, published last Friday in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, is opposite of that seen previously with new technologies like nuclear power and genetically modified foods.  In those cases, the public's concern over safety was greater than the scientists'.

    Nanotechnology involves tiny man-made creations which will be small enough to enter cells, move around inside the body and act on a set of pre-programmed parameters.  They'll do mechanical things, injecting medicine, creating structures, whatever is necessary and has been programmed by their developers.

    In such technologies, scientists foresee potential risks greater than the public does today.  While the general concensus isn't that there are bona fide problems, their claims are that a host of known unknowns (things we know we don't yet know) need to be resolved before the technology can be deemed anywhere close to being safe.  The scientists have a grasp on this position far more so than the public does, according to the survey.

    Author's opinion
    Nothing in the history of mankind has scared me more than genetically modified food.  We have no idea what the long-term effects are from people, or even animals, eating genetically modified materials, or what the effects will be in nature.  Jellyfish gene sequences were never intended to be introduced into plants, for example.  And I believe something similar is true with nanotechnology, meaning the nature of the very small was never intended to directly interact with man.  Sure, it seems like a neat idea, something like Fantastic Voyage.  Programmable robots running around inside our bodies, helping to fight disease, ward off cancer, supplement organ weakness or failure, etc.  But the truth is we don't know what the true side effects are.  We're only guessing.  And, in my opinion... the stakes are just too high.