Share if You Care: Scientists' information behaviors about nanoethics

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Ming-Ching Liang, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Scientific ethics has surfaced as a field of public interest, especially in emerging disciplines, such as nanotechnology. Despite the growing emphasis on nanoethics, ethical and social issues related to nanotechnology, few researchers have probed how nanoscientists communicate about nanoethics. Nanoscientists serve as expert sources for media and prospective researchers and set the public agenda about the risks and benefits associated with nanotechnology. Guided by the theory of reasoned action (TRA), this study investigated information seeking and sharing about nanoethics and identified the roles of ethics involvement (perception of connection and relevance to nanoethics), sense of responsibility, and subjective knowledge (self-reported level of knowledge about nanoethics). An online survey was completed by 164 researchers affiliated with the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) in 2013. Participants answered questions regarding their perceptions of ethical issues surrounding nanotechnology, as well as their beliefs about seeking and sharing nanoethics information. Path analyses were conducted to assess model fit and test paths specified by TRA and previous literature. A majority of respondents indicated they often thought about nanoethics issues related to lab operation, regulation, and societal implications. Such involvement in nanoethics was associated with subjective knowledge (β=.45, p<.001) and sense of responsibility (β=.33, p<.001) and contributed to attitudes toward seeking nanoethics information (β=.17, p<.05) as well as the norms associated with nanoethics information seeking (β=.38, p<.001) and sharing (β=.20, p<.001). Consistent with TRA, participants’ attitudes toward behavior and subjective norms predicted corresponding behavioral intention and, in turn, contributed to nanoethics information seeking and sharing behaviors. While subjective knowledge was only linked to perceived social pressure about sharing nanoethics information (β=.26, p<.001), a sense of responsibility predicts attitude toward nanoethics information seeking (β=.30, p<.001) and information sharing (β=.20, p<.001). The models explained 19% of the variability in nanoethics information seeking and 35% in nanoethics information sharing.  This study highlighted the importance of ethics involvement in acquiring and spreading information about nanoethics. Several intervention points were identified to inform future programs to stimulate conversations about nanoethics among scientists and foster public awareness and salience of ethics in nanoscience.