Researchers explore the role of Google searches in nanotechnology opinion formation

Doctoral student Xuan Liang, with coauthors doctoral candidate Ashley Anderson, Professor Dietram Scheufele, Associate Professor Dominique Brossard in Life Sciences Communication and Associate Professor Michael Xenos in Communication Arts, has published new research on the role of Google searches in information-seeking on nanotechnology.

The paper, “Information snapshots: What Google searches really tell us about emerging technologies” is in press with Nano Today and available online here.

Researchers simulated Google searches for various popular topics related to nanotechnology over a 17-month period, and then tracked and analyzed the top ten website titles and snippets (two-line website descriptions) that appeared on the first page of Google search results. The data show that the snippets of websites highlighted in top Google search results present prevalent policy themes in most searches, prevalent health and environment themes and more concrete negative
consequences under nano-related ‘‘risk’’ searches than tangible positive consequences under ‘‘benefit’’ searches. The study suggests that Google Web Search result are likely to play a pivotal role in the formation of nanotechnology knowledge and attitudes among the public and — ultimately — regulation and funding policy.

This paper was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to the UW-Madison Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) in Templated Synthesis and Assembly at the Nanoscale (Grant No. SES DMR-0832760).