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New risk or old risk, high risk or no risk? How scientists' standpoints shape their nanotechnology risk frames

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This exploratory case study compares risk frames of scientists who are developing new nanotechnologies (upstream scientists) with those of scientists who might later study the health effects of these technologies (downstream scientists). It is based on a series of in-depth interviews with scientists at a major research university in the United States. Interviews reveal some substantial differences in risk frames among upstream and downstream scientists - many of which center on whether or not nanotechnologies and nanomaterials are perceived as 'new'. Most upstream scientists said they do not think nanotechnologies pose new or substantial risks, while most downstream scientists said they are worried that they may pose new, unforeseen, and possibly substantial risks. Upstream scientists are less likely than downstream scientists to think that concerns about potential nanotechnology risks are based on valid science and tend to consider a narrower range of uncertainties. Interviews suggest that these risk and uncertainty frames are influenced by contrasting disciplinary backgrounds, information exposures, and interdisciplinary interactions. Findings suggest that more comprehensive nanotechnology risk policies might be developed if a wider variety of different kinds of scientists - including downstream scientists - are involved in upstream nanotechnology development and policymaking.
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Keywords: Nanotechnology; framing; risk frames; uncertainty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA

Publication date: 01 June 2007

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