researchers polled 1,850 Americans about their attitudes toward nanotechnology. Eighty-one percent of those polled had heard nothing at all (53 percent) or "just a little" (28 percent) about nanotechnology. Nevertheless, after being offered a bare bones two-sentence definition of nanotech, 89 percent of respondents had an opinion on whether the benefits (53 percent) of nanotech would outweigh the risks (36 percent). So how could people who know nothing or almost nothing about a new technology have an opinion about its safety? Pre-existing world views, of course.
...The researchers relying on work by social scientist Aaron Wildavsky divided Americans into four cultural groups with regard to risk perception: hierarchists, individualists, egalitarians and communitarians. Hierarchists trust experts, but believe social deviancy is very risky. Egalitarians and communitarians worry about technology, but think that social deviancy is no big deal. Individualists see risk as opportunity and so are optimistic about technology.
...Hierarchists and individualists thought nano was less risky, while egalitarians and communitarians thought it was more risky.