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Fairness and Nanotechnology Concern

Authors

  • Katherine A McComas,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of South Carolina, SC, USA.
      Department of Communication, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA; kam19@cornell.edu.
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  • John C. Besley

    1. School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of South Carolina, SC, USA.
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Department of Communication, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA; kam19@cornell.edu.

Abstract

Research suggests that fairness perceptions matter to people who are asked to evaluate the acceptability of risks or risk management. Two separate national random surveys (n = 305 and n = 529) addressed Americans’ concerns about and acceptance of nanotechnology risk management in the context of the degree to which they view scientists and risk managers as fair. The first survey investigated general views about scientists across four proposed dimensions of fairness (distributional, procedural, interpersonal, and informational). The results show that respondents who believe that the outcomes of scientific research tend to result in unequal benefits (distributional fairness) and that the procedures meant to protect the public from scientific research are biased (procedural fairness) were more concerned about nanotechnology. Believing scientists would treat them with respect (interpersonal fairness) and ensure access to information (informational fairness) were not significant predictors of concern. The second study also looked at these four dimensions of fairness but focused on perceptions of risk managers working for government, universities, and major companies. In addition to concern, it also examined acceptance of nanotechnology risk management. Study 2 results were similar to those of study 1 for concern; however, only perceived informational fairness consistently predicted acceptance of nanotechnology risk management. Overall, the study points to the value of considering fairness perceptions in the study of public perceptions of nanotechnology.

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