Just to illustrate this point a little bit further, data from a forthcoming study by some of my colleagues and myself shows shows that religiosity is already emerging as an important "filter" for certain publics when they make sense of nano. And this is not just about a simple correlation between religiosity and attitudes toward science, which is important in its own right. But in this case, we're talking about a link between knowledge and attitudes that varies depending on respondents' levels of religiosity. In other words, knowing more about nanotechnology is consistently linked to more positive attitudes among less religious respondents. For more religious respondents, in contrast, high levels of knowledge do little to influence their attitudes about nano funding (see Figure).
"However, nanoscientists and technologists should look to social scientists for more than just data on these questions — help from 'outside' is also needed to communicate effectively with the public. [...]
These and other results emphasize the difficulty of making sure there is not a public backlash against nanotechnology — there is no guarantee that the communication approaches that work for men in the US, for instance, will work for women in the US, let alone for anyone else in the world. One size certainly does not fit all. Given the complexity of this challenge it can be helpful to think in terms of 'frames' or 'perceptual filters' when trying to communicate with the public [...]. The basic idea of this approach is that most people are overloaded with information and not that interested in the details of nanotechnology or any other technology, so they use frames or filters — such as their political or religious beliefs — to process all this information and what it means for them."
(Read the full editorial here.)
(Based on Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A., Kim, E., & Lewenstein, B. V. (forthcoming). Religiosity as a perceptual filter: Examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology. Public Understanding of Science.)
Putting information out there, of course, continues to be an important goal for all science communication. But we also need to realize that different publics have different informational deficits, react very differently to information, and -- most importantly -- are looking for answers to questions that often have very little to do with the scientific issues surrounding emerging technologies. As the data from our forthcoming article show, fitting the moral implications of nano breakthroughs into their existing belief systems is much more important for sizable groups in society at the moment than understanding the science behind it.
For more on this idea of perceptual filters, see:
Scheufele, D. A. (2006). Five lessons in nano outreach. Materials Today, 9(5), 64.