Americans view nanotech as morally unacceptable

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nanotechnology, Religion, Cosmetics

Nanotechnology is considered morally unacceptable by many Americans
presenting a potential barrier to its commercial potential in the
cosmetics industry.

The technology is already making a big impact on the cosmetics industry, particularly in sun care and anti-aging, but safety concerns and moral questions could hold it back. Research carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Survey Center suggests that only 29.5 percent of Americans consider nanotechnology to be morally acceptable. Playing God ​ The fear that nanotechnology is immoral seems to rest on the belief that scientists are playing God when they try to manipulate the properties of tiny particles, measuring one-billionth of a meter. Professor Dietram Scheufele, who carried out the research, said the importance of religion in the American response to nanotechnology appears to be borne out by the fact that the Europeans surveyed were far more likely to be unconcerned. In Germany 62.7 percent of those surveyed had no moral qualms about nanotechnology and 72.1 percent of French respondents did not see any problems with it. "The importance of religion in these different countries that shows up in data set after data set parallels exactly the differences we're seeing in terms of moral views,"​ said Scheufele. He said the moral concerns about nanotechnology were not caused by ignorance but are instead founded on religious belief. Marketing implications ​ This makes the task of marketing nanotech-based products challenging and could hinder the development of commercial applications. Despite the widespread moral doubts about nanotechnology, it is being used in an increasing number of cosmetic products. Nanotechnology is currently used in 85 personal care products according to an inventory of nano-based consumer goods compiled by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. One way in which companies are overcoming the moral barrier to commercial success with nanotechnology is by underplaying it or even avoiding mention of it in marketing literature, said Gundula Azees, spokesperson for the Soil Association, a UK-based organic certification body.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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