Risk Communication for Nanobiotechnology: To Whom, about What, and Why?

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2009

Publication Title

Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics








Regulatory oversight and public communication are intimately intertwined. Oversight failures quickly galvanize media and public attention. In addition, regulations sometimes require that risks and uncertainties be included in communication efforts aimed at non-experts outside of the regulatory and policy communities — whether in obtaining informed consent for novel medical treatments; by including risk information on drug labels, in drug advertisements, or on chemicals used in the workplace; in providing nutritional information on food packages; or by opening environmental impact assessments to public comment. In recent decades, broad public input with respect to new technologies has also been sought “upstream” of hard policy decisions in the hope of ultimately gaining legitimacy for those decisions — and perhaps increasing their quality. When communication fails, oversight may also be seen as failing — rightly or wrongly. As part of a larger project organized by the University of Minnesota, this paper presents six models of public risk communication and uses those models to analyze the communication challenges facing nanotechnology and nanobiotechnology. Reviewing the communication dynamics associated with the historical cases of technology regulation with which this symposium issue is concerned (genetically engineered organisms [GEOs] in the food supply, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, chemicals in the workplace, and gene transfer research or “gene therapy”) helps shed light on the communications challenges facing nanobiotechnology.


Communication; Delegated legislation; Government and the press; Information theory; Nanotechnology – Law and legislation; Public opinion; Risk perception; Technology – Government policy; Technology – Law and legislation; Transgenic organisms – Law and legislation; United States


Health Communication | Health Policy | Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Science and Technology Policy | Science and Technology Studies



UNLV article access

Search your library