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Valeriadelle Cave Media&Nanotech


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  • 1. The Media and Nanotechnology Public discourse and newspapers: building meanings about nanotechnology Valeria delle Cave, Ph.D. Student Science and Society Email: ProMiNaS Workshop, Minatec, Grenoble, 15-17 September 2009
  • 2. Outline Introduction: communication, the media The public discourse: the risk of nanotechnology The press coverage of nanotechnology: an overview 3 European case studies: Le Figaro (France), La Repubblica (Italy), The Irish Times (Ireland)
  • 3. Nanotechnology is... Please, write on your paper the sentence you agree with most: ...the new scientific frontier of quest for knowledge ...the pillars of a revolution and the beginning of a new era ...the opportunity for a new business ...a dangerous technology, so that biotech looks insignificant ...innovation of national interest
  • 4. Communication Communication is a process of transferring information: is the place where meanings are produced is the place where social actors interact in multidirectional way
  • 5. The Media The media are tools of communication to a wide public: different media: newspapers, books, radio, television, web... people can use the media to deliver messages: partecipation in the public sphere → focus on public discourse the media can choose the message to deliver: setting the public agenda → focus on media content
  • 6. Public discourse
  • 7. Bill Joy, “Why the future doesn't need us” (Wired, Sept 2000) Nanorobots: “can self-replicate” Molecular electronics: “By 2030, we are likely to be able to build machines... a million times as powerful as the personal computers of today... how seriously dangerous a human can be "once transformed into an unbounded superintelligent-robot.” ... the robots will eventually succeed us -that humans clearly face extinction.” Nanotechnology: “has clear military and terrorist uses”
  • 8. Nanorobots like a scientific controversy Eric Drexler, Engine of creation: Richard Smalley, “Of Chemistry, the coming era of Love and Nanobots”, Scientific Nanotechnology, 1986: American, Sept. 2001: Replicating assemblers and gray- “Self replicating, mechanical goo scenario: nanobots are simply not possible in “They could spread like blowing our world. To put every atom in its pollen, replicate swiftly, and place... would require magic reduce the biosphere to dust in a fingers. Such a nanobot will never matter of days. Dangerous become more than a futurist’s replicators could easily be too daydream.” tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop”
  • 9. Nanorobots like a possible future “Walking Small”, Technology Review, MIT, 1 March, 2002 Nano walker: “Led by researcher Sylvain Martel, the group is developing a fleet of thumb-sized robots that... will able to measure and assemble structures at a molecular level... They'll be used to create molecular materials and for DNA research.”
  • 10. “Nanotech takes a giant step down!” (, 6th of March, 2002) MIT: “Nano Walker” “If governments don’t address it there, UC Berkley: “Squads of roboflies” we could find ourselves dealing with social and environmental issues that will Kraft Foods, nano-capsules in beverages make biotech look insignificant” Department of Defense interests Nano-market: 1 trillion dollars by 2015 World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, Aug2002
  • 11. “Mind the gap”: science and ethics in nanotechnology (Nanotechnology, Feb. 2003) Anisa Mnyusiwalla et al., Joint research centre for bioethics, University of Toronto, Canada : “In August 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, an organization called ETC held several workshops calling for a moratorium on the deployment of nanomaterials... As the science of NT leaps ahead, the ethics lags behind. Activist groups have appropriately identified this gap, and begun to exploit it. We believe that there is a danger of derailing nanotechnology if serious study of its ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social implications does not reach the speed of progress in the science”
  • 12. Prince Charles, April 2003 Very close to NGO Friends of the Earth ETC Group Report Statement of concern Media coverage in UK Government of Tony Blair Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering
  • 13. European Commission, 2004: first risk analysis of nanotechnology Nanotoxicology: “We propose that a new category of toxicology –namely nanotoxicology- be defined to address gaps in knowledge and to specifically address the special problems likely to be caused by nanoparticles” (Donaldson et al, Occupation Environmental Medicine, 2004, 61, 727-728)
  • 14. coverage of nanotechnology
  • 15. British Newspaper Press Anderson et al., “The framing of Nanotechnology in the British Newspaper Press”, Science Communication, 2005; 27 From the 1st of April 2003 to the 30th of June 2004 Coverage concentrated in a relative small number of elite newspapers: The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, The Indipendent... Well-educated public “Prince Charles' s interest” was the focus between April and June 2003, involving other actors: Tony Blair and Lord Sainsbury (Science Minister) and ETC Group Most popular frames are: “Scientific Discovery”, “Science Fiction”, and “Business Story”
  • 16. Coverage in American Press Lewenstein et al., “The salience of small: Nanotechnology coverage in the American Press, 1986-2004”, International Communication Association Conference, 26-30 May 2005 From the 1st of January 1986 to the 30th of June 2004 New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press Well-educated public Attention to nanotechnology began in 1998, rising quickly in 2003 Coverage is overwhelmingly positive, with emphasis on applications and the economic potential of nanotechnology Risk stories are a small part, and not always negative The vast majority of articles tend to frame nanotechnology in terms of progress and economic prospects.
  • 17. Danish Newpapers Kjærgaard, “Making a small country count: nanotechnology in Danish newspapers from 1996 to 2006”, Public Understanding of Science, 2008 From the 1st of January 1996 to the 30th of June 2006 Concentration of articles in opinion making newspapers Well-educated public Trend coverage rises in the period 2000-2005 From 1996 to 2002: “scientific discovery” frame was the most prominent From 2004 to june 2006: “science and technology policy” frame was dominant “There was a general consensus that nanotechnology should... play a crucial role in making Denemark among the most competitive knowledge-based economies in the world”
  • 18. Other European newspapers, 2000-2007 35 35 30 2000 30 2000 25 2001 25 2001 2002 2002 20 20 2003 2003 15 15 2004 2004 10 2005 10 2005 5 2006 5 2006 0 2007 0 2007 The Irish Times coverage Le Figaro coverage 50 2000 40 2001 30 2002 2003 20 2004 2005 10 2006 0 2007 La Repubblica coverage
  • 19. Researched years: 2000, 2004, 2006, 2007 120 Nanotechnology foreground stories are a 100 small percentage University scientists and science 80 institutions are the most mentioned foreground actors, with entrepeneurs and policy 60 background makers. 40 Coverage increasing trend is due to important local events: national research 20 initiative (2004-2005, France), government elections (2006, Italy), 0 business event (2004, Ireland) The Irish Times Le Figaro La Repubblica Risk stories are very few
  • 20. Nanotechnology is unfamiliar to the public Abundance of definitions: “a nanometre is a billionth of metre” “Scientists are manipulating materials at the nano scale, where objects are produced and mesured in the billionths of a metre across” “la nanotecnologia lavora su una grandezza di 10 alla meno nove, un miliardesimo di metro” “discipline la manipulation de la matière à l'échelle nanométrique, le milliardième de mètre”
  • 21. Framing nanotechnology, building meanings Advance and discovery: “...scientists who will push the frontiers of the most sophisticated technology known” (The Irish Times) “...les piliers qui soutiendront nos progès contre le cancer” (Le Figaro) Business opportunity: “La capacità di produrre nuovi materiali offre l'opportunità di aggredire nuovi mercati” (La Repubblica)
  • 22. Conclusions Scientists have a key role in communicating nanotechnology, but they are not the only ones Media coverage is positive But there is a risk discourse as well Communication is a construction of meaning and a place of interaction among different social actors