Nanomaterials are used in an ever increasing number of cosmetic products, especially sunscreens, but many consumers are uneasy about the science behind the innovations.
Calls for greater research into any potential health risks of nanomaterials have become loader as they become incorporated into more and more consumer products. However, new research into attitudes towards nanotechnology in Europe and the US suggests that religious belief rather than attitude to risk accounts for differing views.
Religious conviction fuels opposition to nanotechnology
The paper published in the December issue of Nature Nanotechnology said people with strong religious beliefs tend to be opposed to nanotechnology, because they are inclined to believe that it has the potential to alter the fundamentals of nature.
The researchers compared attitudes to nanotechnology in 12 European countries and the US and found that opposition was highest in countries where religion plays a large role in everyday life.
Italy, Austria, Ireland, and the US were therefore more suspicious of nanotechnology, while more secular countries like France and Germany were more positive.
Research leader Professor Dietram Scheufele from the University of Wisconsin's life sciences department said he was surprised by the skepticism in the US because the country is normally open to innovation and new technology.
Progress of technology may be held back
Nanotechnology has the potential to become a major driver for innovation across a wide range of industries but opposition from the general public could hold its progress back.
Scheufele said the results indicate that the public’s attitude towards science turns negative when people filter their views through religion.
“What we captured is nano-specific, but it is also representative of a larger attitude toward science and technology,” said Scheufele. “It raises a big question: What's really going on in our public discourse, where science and religion often clash?”