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From uncertainty to risk?: Scientific and news media portrayals of nanoparticle safety

Wilkinson, Clare; Allan, Stuart; Anderson, Alison; Petersen, Alan


Clare Wilkinson
Associate Professor in Science Communication

Stuart Allan

Alison Anderson

Alan Petersen


This article examines how nanotechnology has been portrayed in the British newspaper press over an extended period (from April 1, 2003 to July 1, 2006) and the views of scientists involved in nanotechnology research and journalists who wrote news stories. Two methodological strategies are employed: first, recurring patterns in the press coverage were identified using content analysis. Second, scientists and journalists were questioned about their views of coverage and of how health risks were represented. The study revealed that for scientists the most prominent risk issue was nanoparticle safety, although this received only scant attention in the press. Scientists expressed particular concern that efforts be made to regulate pertinent applications before possible health risks become a controversial issue. Both scientists and journalists acknowledged the difficulties of communicating the concept of risk given the uncertainties of nanotechnologies. The implications of the findings for news reporting of nanotechnology risks are discussed.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 1, 2007
Journal Health, Risk and Society
Print ISSN 1469-8331
Electronic ISSN 1469-8331
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 2
Pages 145-157
APA6 Citation Wilkinson, C., Allan, S., Anderson, A., & Petersen, A. (2007). From uncertainty to risk?: Scientific and news media portrayals of nanoparticle safety. Health, Risk and Society, 9(2), 145-157.
Keywords nanotechnology, risk, scientists, media, stigma, nanoparticle
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This output originated from an ESRC project, Nanotechnology and News Production which was conducted between 2004 and 2005 and based at the University of Plymouth. In 2005, the co-authors convened a one-day conference ´┐ŻNanotechnologies, The Media and Public Engagement', held in Bristol. This resulted in a special issue of Health, Risk and Society on 'Nanotechnologies, Risk and Society', which was co-edited by the co-authors. All four co-authors contributed to drafts of the full article. Wilkinson wrote the first draft of the article and was attributed first author. This work has given rise to a co-authored chapter ´┐ŻNanoethics: news media and the shaping of public agendas' for The Handbook of Research on Technoethics to be published in 2008 by Idea Group Inc and a co-authored book Nanotechnology, Risk and Communication with Alison Anderson, Alan Petersen and Stuart Allan for Palgrave to be delivered to publisher December 2007. As a result of her PhD research, Wilkinson was invited to act as a reviewer for New Genetics and Society journal, and as a result of her involvement in this project, as a reviewer for journals including; Sociological Research Online, Science Communication, and Public Understanding of Science