Protest, profit and perception!
handful of people protested in front of the Eddie Bauer
flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicaco in May 2005.
They were protesting against the company`s use of untested “nano-fibers” in
their “nanotex” clothing by showing their painted bodies
covered with slogans like: “Plenty of room at the bottom” or “Say
the truth about nanotechnology at Eddie Bauer”. T.H.O.N.G
(To pl ess Humans Organized for natural Genetics) had good
media coverage with the action.
Since the ETC-Group called for a moratorium on synthetic
nanoparticles in the year 2003; a risk debate among experts
was launched while in most countries the public debate
had not started yet.
general public attitude towards Nanotechnology is positive
but the general knowledge about nanotechnology is poor.
More than 54% of the peo pl e in the US know nothing
about it. That`s likely to change as nanotech`s potential
turns into more products. If these products prove to
be more beneficial than hazardous the acceptance will
increase. Having learned the lessons from other technology
debates (GM, biotechnology and genetic engineering) it`s
crucial to understand the general patterns of perception
and communication. The following “Ten Commandments” should
serve as a guideline to better understanding of public
perception and lead to better communication strategies.
tech needs high trust”
Behind every debate about modern technology there is the
question of trust in the end. Can citizens be sure that
they are not cheated by politicians, industry or scientists?
Can they be sure, that their confidence isn`t misused.
The trust in industry, politicians, and governments is
on a historical low-level. Consumers trust the most to
NGO`s. When it comes to the acceptance of technology the
trustworthiness of the involved stakeholders is key.
- Communication is the key to increase
public trust. It has to be personal, honest, transparent
and open, covering benefits and risks.
2: “Science doesn`t create public trust – peo
pl e do”
When arguing about potential benefits and threats of a
technology experts often argue with scientific studies
and arguments. Scientific arguments don`t create trust.
On the contrary: Listening to the experts contradictory
arguments laymen often feel puzzled and more troubled in
the long run. In the worst case this leads to rejection
and boycott. The public doesn`t trust arguments but peo
pl e, and trust is given to those peo pl e or organisations
who are believed to act in the same way they would do.
- Stakeholder`s reputation and credibility
is more important to the public than sophisticated arguments.
When it comes to emerging technology peo pl e rely on
cognitive shortcuts and heuristics. Media coverage of nanotechnology
provides a key heuristic to audiences. One of the strongest
effects of media coverage is based on media-framing, the
way contents are presented. And after all: Media love nano:
More than 70% of media coverage about nano is positive:
- Media love nano. Give them the
stories before somebody else does!
The massive occurrence of data is challenging to consumers
when it comes to com pl ex technologies. Which are
the stable anchoring points when decisions have to be
made under a high degree of uncertainty, a lack of information
and in even shorter time? It`s values. They become
the anchoring point in decision-making processes. Personal
values are individually consistent, time stable and
probably most important - can be communicated to justify
a decision towards anybody. Consumer's decisions are
based on intuition more and more, which are mainly based
on personal attitudes and values.
- Individual values are becoming
more relevant in decision making processes. They
are key to the consumer acceptance of technology
well known equation: “More information à more
acceptance” proved to be wrong. The causality between
degree of information and acceptance is even negative.
The educational level of GMO-critics e.g. is higher.
There is no use in trying to attempt acceptance
by additional information. Industry`s information
campaigns are perceived as manipulative and PR-driven.
- Lack of technology acceptance is
not an information- but a communication problem.
risk perception seems to be com pl icated and often
irrational. (The smoker`s fear of the snake bite”).
Patterns of risk-perception can`t be manipulated because
they aren`t constructed individually. Moreover they
are the result of an evolutionary process. The concept
has proven to be suitable for all kinds of every-day
threats. The common character of these concepts gives
us a useful tool for a common orientation and the opportunity
to establish common understandable frameworks of communication.
- There is no use trying to manipulate risk
perception frames. Better harness them.
Nano-scientists are occasionally claiming that nanotechnology
will clean up environment, eradicate world poverty
and free human from disease, ageing and probably death
in the future. If nanotechnology is described in this
way the media will hype it up and make peo pl e believe
that these “Nano-dreams” will become true.
Disappointment is highly toxic to public acceptance
- Don`t hype it up and avoid
benefits and risks”
If the public is to weigh up the risks and benefits of
nanotechnology, it must know and understand the realistic
benefits. If there are risks to be taken then the product
has to have tangible benefits for the customers. Industry
has to show useful products with remarkable benefits.
- One sided information breeds suspicions.
Consumers want to be informed”
Consumers want to be informed and want to know what`s
in the products they are buying.
- Tag your Nano-products with a Nano-Label and
build trust and a good PR
and regulations don`t create public trust”
Recent studies have shown that trust in regulatory agencies
and political entities are generally low. Many peo pl e
don`t know much about the activities or regard them as
suspicious of the industry. The recent Swiss pl ebiscite
for a GM-Food-moratorium has shown a low public trust despite
very strict regulations.
- Governmental agencies and regulators
have to improve their communication strategies
to gain trust.