Sunday, March 25, 2007

FresherLonger, EPA, and nano one more time: It's all about labeling ... or not, rather


CNN.com recently picked up the silver nano story again, focusing on the need for more regulations, which seems to be the emerging frame of choice for journalists in this latest wave of nano stories.

Just as a refresher: Until late last year, Amazon.com and SharperImage.com used to sell FresherLonger food containers containing nano silver particles. Now they just sell FresherLonger containers, and all nano references have been removed from their web sites. What happened?

The answer is simple. Late last year, the EPA regulated some nano products. Well, actually, it didn't, really. What the EPA did do, was enforce their own FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) regulations for some nano-based products using silver particles to kill bacteria and other microorganisms.
"If a product claims to control microorganisms (such as bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi) other than on or in humans or animals, the product is considered to be an antimicrobial product, and such products also are regulated as pesticides. For years, EPA has exempted from the registration requirements for pesticides, certain manufactured items (so-called “articles”) that are formulated with an antimicrobial additive, when the additive functions as a materials preservative (i.e., the additive is intended to protect the article itself from deterioration caused by certain microbes). However, to qualify for this exemption, the additive that is incorporated into the treated article must have been registered with EPA and labeled specifically for the purpose of being used as a materials preservative and the treated article must not be marketed with claims that the treated article or the additive within it have any antimicrobial effect on anything that is outside of the article itself."

(This is based on a more comprehensive overview by Arnold & Porter LLP.)

U.S. retailers acted swiftly. And two things about their decision to pull all nano references from product descriptions are especially noteworthy:

First, companies like Amazon.com or Sharperimage.com simply followed FIFRA regulations and toned down their antimicrobial claims in product descriptions and promotional materials in order to avoid having their food containers regulated as pesticides.

Second, and this is more interesting, some retailers went beyond FIFRA requirements and removed any mention of nanotechnology from their product descriptions, not just the references to antimicrobial qualities or nano silver particles. And in part, this may have been motivated by concerns about public reactions to EPA regulations of nanotechnology, more generally.

Ironically, of course, the National Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) strong stance on the labeling issue has produced some unintended consequences. As outlined earlier, FIFRA regulations state that if a product claims to control microorganisms (such as bacteria, mold, mildew, fungi) other than on or in humans or animals, the product is considered to be an antimicrobial product. And by pushing the EPA to regulate FresherLonger and related products under FIFRA in a November 22, 2006 letter, NRDC helped promote a situation that forced companies to either remove antimicrobial claims from their product descriptions or to have their food containers regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

All the back-and-forth over regulations, labels, and descriptions, so far, has achieved only one thing: The nano descriptions have been removed from products, such as FresherLonger, and consumers can't tell any more if they contain nano silver particles or not. According to the NRDC, of course, that "denies the public's right to know the active ingredient of these products."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

UW Nano Cafe: Nano and public health



PRESS RELEASE:

Join us at 6:30 pm, at the Memorial Union, on UW-Madison campus, 800 Langdon St.

Check 'Today in the Union' on March 22, to see the exact location.

The 4th Nano Café 'Grande' will be a special Nano Café event.
The first three Cafés gave overviews of benefits and risks of nanotechnology.
The 4th Nano Café will focus on Nanotechnology and Public Health, and will deal with the question "is the widespread use of nano-antimicrobials beneficial for public health?."

This concern was raised by citizens at the third Café and discussion of the topic brought on additional questions.

  • What kinds of products include nano-antimicrobials?
  • How do nano-antimicrobials work? What are their effects and benefits?
  • Are nano-antimicrobials toxic for health? for the environment?
  • Does a potential for microbial resistance to these nanomaterials exist?
  • What are the pros and cons of a regulation in this field?

(Click here for the full release.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Update: World's first nano safety label (CENARIOS)

The U.S. press is just now picking up on the story that ran about a week ago in Europe (see nanopublic posting from March 3, 2007).
8/03/2007 - A Swiss firm is offering the first process risk management and safety certification for pharma companies working with nanoparticles and technologies.

At least two pharma companies are already in talks with The Innovation Society, which has developed the Cenarios system (Certifiable Nanospecific Risk management and Monitoring System) that collates risk related information from scientific, regulatory, technological and market sources to generate a database of material to be applied to specific products and processes using nanotechnology.

There is currently no nanospecific regulatory framework in existence, so this new certification system aims to provide a level of safety and compliance in the rapidly growing but still somewhat unknown field of nanotechnology.

(Click here for the full story from In-pharmatechnologist.com.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

UW Press Release: TV coverage of nano triggers emotional rather than information-based responses



As nano is beginning to emerge on the media agenda, a forthcoming article in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly suggests that different news outlets can trigger very different reactions to nanotech coverage. In our study, respondents who seek out general science and nanotech-related news online or in newspapers also tended to be more knowledgeable about this new technology.

People who depended more on television for their science and nano news, in contrast, did not gain significant levels of knowledge, but instead deferred to scientific authority when making judgments about nanotech research. Part of the explanation for that phenomenon lies in the episodic nature of television coverage which often focuses on the human interest aspects of emerging technologies, and the relative absence of scientific information on television, where for local news, for instance, most news stories are restricted to 30 second segments.
"March 7, 2007

TO: Reporters, news directors

FROM: Michael Penn, (608) 262-2679, mpenn@wisc.edu

RE: MEDIA EFFECTS ON PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARD NANOTECHNOLOGY

As the emerging field of nanotechnology enters the public consciousness, mass media play an important role in shaping public attitudes about the new science. But newspapers, the Internet and television do so in significantly different ways, says Dietram Scheufele, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a paper published in the current Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Scheufele and Chul-joo Lee of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication find that newspapers and the Internet help people better understand nanotechnology research, but television news accounts have a more emotional effect.

While television promotes public acceptance of nanotechnology, it does so by creating an air of deference to scientific authority, with little effect on viewers' understanding of the science, the authors write. Scheufele suggests the brief time allotted to television news segments and its focus on personal stories, rather than in-depth scientific explanations, may be insufficient for promoting understanding of the complex science.

CONTACT: Dietram Scheufele, (414) 241-4774, scheufele@wisc.edu

http://www.news.wisc.edu/13534.html

###

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Trusting their gut: More evidence on emotional responses to nanotechnology

Dan Kahan at Yale and his colleagues just released a working paper with first results from a recent online experiment on nanotech attitudes. And their results confirm a lot of the findings from recent systematic survey-based research about how the public makes sense of nanotechnology:

First, Kahan et al. highlight the importance of emotional or gut reactions to nanotech, rather than well-reasoned cognitive responses. This fits in nicely with a a piece Chul-joo Lee at Penn and I have forthcoming in the next issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Emotional reactions to nanotechnology, we show, are most pronounced among television viewers (as opposed to newspaper audiences, for instance). And part of the explanation lies in the episodic nature of television coverage and the relative absence of scientific information in news.



(For more information, see Lee, C., & Scheufele, D. A. (forthcoming). The influence of knowledge and deference toward scientific authority: A media effects model for public attitudes toward nanotechnology. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.)

Second, Kanahan and his colleagues once again highlight the importance of predispositional variables for making sense of emerging technologies. Matt Nisbet wrote about this back in 2005 (Nisbet, M. C. 2005. The competition for worldviews: Values, information, and public support for stem cell research. International Journal Of Public Opinion Research, 17(1), 90-112.), and we will be presenting a study exploring the moderating role of knowledge and religiosity on risk/benefits perceptions about nanotechnology at the upcoming meeting of the International Communication Association in San Francisco this May.

Brossard, D., Kim, E., & Scheufele, D. A. (2007, May). The Politics of science: Communication and opinion formation about scientific issues and policies. Paper presented to the annual convention of the International Communication Association, San Francisco, CA.

While the Kanahan et al. working paper does not necessarily offer new insights, it provides a nice summary of some of the larger issues surrounding public decision making about nanotech. Here is more information about the full release:
Dan M. Kanahan et al. (2007). Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: an Experimental Investigation. Unpublished working paper.

Abstract:

Despite knowing little about nanotechnology (so to speak), members of the public readily form opinions on whether its potential risks outweigh its potential benefits. On what basis are they forming their judgments? How are their views likely to evolve as they become exposed to more information about this novel science? We conducted a survey experiment (N = 1,850) to answer these questions. We found that public perceptions of nanotechnology risks, like public perceptions of societal risks generally, are largely affect driven: individuals' visceral reactions to nanotechnology (ones likely based on attitudes toward environmental risks generally) explain more of the variance in individuals' perceptions of nanotechnology's risks and benefits than does any other influence. These views are not static: even a small amount of information can generate changes in perceptions. But how those perceptions change depends heavily on individuals' values. Using a between-subjects design, we found that individuals exposed to balanced information polarize along cultural and political lines relative to individuals not exposed to information. We discuss what these findings imply for understanding of risk perceptions generally and for the future of nanotechnology as a subject of political conflict and regulation.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Managing nano risks and communication ... all at once



The Innovationsgesellschaft St. Gallen, a technology consultancy firm in Switzerland, just began to offer CENARIOS®, a risk management and monitoring system for nanotechnology, to their clients. Here's an excerpt from their product description:
"CENARIOS® includes a criteria index based on TÜV standards with requirements towards employees, risk assessment and risk management (risk communication and issues management). The certificate for CENARIOS® is given by the certification authority of TÜV SÜD according their standards and it is verified periodically. The certification process ensures that internal communication is optimised and that the risk management system is continuously improved."
What is especially interesting is that CENARIOS is a full-service risk assessment and management tool. It is based on three steps, two of which mostly deal with the ethical, legal, and social (ELSI) aspects nanotechnology. In addition to scientific risk assessment of specific products, the CENARIOS product description focuses heavily on assessments of the information environment, including media coverage and public opinion climates, and on communication-based crisis management and prevention:
Module 1: Risk Assessment Module 1 provides an updated risk portfolio of products and processes and an accurate positioning. A subsequent package of suitable measurements is developed for the reduction of the existing risks. Risks are evaluated and a comprehensive risk assessment is performed. Products and production processes are checked for health-, safety and environment risk potentials using all available data. A widespread product and process risk portfolio is developed. The methodology is particularly adapted to the uncertainty in many risk related areas of nanotechnology.

Module 2: 360o Risk Monitoring System Module 2 provides a comprehensive outlook on strategically relevant developments and therefore provides a competitive edge. Future risk areas are monitored in order to anticipate strategically relevant risks. It includes risk related trends in health, occupational safety and the environment. Scientific, societal and legal trends as legislation, liability claims, media coverage, public perception etc. are analysed and evaluated. Furthermore, specific developments in technology and market trends are monitored.

Module 3: Issues Management and Communication Risk communication plays a crucial role in crisis management. Tools for crisis prevention are created and measures (documentation, trainings and workshops, etc) for professional crisis management are provided. This module bases on the data of modules 1 and 2 and provides the necessary tools for optimal crisis management.
Ironically, some of CENARIOS's scientific assessment tools are certified by TÜV SÜD, the same agency whose seal Kleinmann AG allegedly used without approval for their Magic Nano product line.
"CENARIOS® is certified and audited regularly in an independent quality standard process in which a TÜV-Certificate is awarded. The high-quality TÜV-label testifies a foremost safety level for the risk-management system. It documents the company’s great safety efforts towards customers, authorities and the public."

(Click here for the full release from the Innovationsgesellschaft St. Gallen.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Explaining framing

I've written about the importance of framing for successful communication about emerging technologies before. Now, Journal of Communication just published a special issue devoted exclusively to research on priming, framing, and agenda-setting. This collection of articles will hopefully provide a useful conceptual framework for researchers and communicators exploring the relevance of these concepts for effective public communication about issues like stem cell research and nanotechnology.

Special Issue on Framing, Agenda Setting, & Priming: Agendas for Theory and Research

Guest Editors: David Tewksbury & Dietram A. Scheufele

"This special issue of Journal of Communication is devoted to theoretical explanations of news framing, agenda setting, and priming effects. It examines if and how the three models are related and what potential relationships between them tell theorists and researchers about the effects of mass media. As an introduction to this effort, this essay provides a very brief review of the three effects and their roots in media-effects research. Based on this overview, we highlight a few key dimensions along which one can compare, framing, agenda setting, and priming. We conclude with a description of the contexts within which the three models operate, and the broader implications that these conceptual distinctions have for the growth of our discipline."

Here's the full into article ...

Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9-20.

... and the table of contents:

Sheafer, T. (2007). How to Evaluate It: The Role of Story-Evaluative Tone in Agenda Setting and Priming. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 21-39.

Hwang, H., Gotlieb, M. R., Nah, S., & McLeod, D. M. (2007). Applying a Cognitive-Processing Model to Presidential Debate Effects: Postdebate News Analysis and Primed Reflection. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 40-59.

Van Gorp, B. (2007). The Constructionist Approach to Framing: Bringing Culture Back In. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 60-78.

Zhou, Y., & Moy, P. (2007). Parsing Framing Processes: The Interplay Between Online Public Opinion and Media Coverage. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 79-98.

Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). A Theory of Framing and Opinion Formation in Competitive Elite Environments. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 99-118.

Edy, J. A., & Meirick, P. C. (2007). Wanted, Dead or Alive: Media Frames, Frame Adoption, and Support for the War in Afghanistan. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 119-141.

Weaver, D. H. (2007). Thoughts on Agenda Setting, Framing, and Priming. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 142-147.

Reese, S. D. (2007). The Framing Project: A Bridging Model for Media Research Revisited. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 148-154.

Kinder, D. R. (2007). Curmudgeonly Advice. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 155-162.

Entman, R. M. (2007). Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 163-173.