Well, now he's done the analysis to back this up, and it's been published in Nature Nanotechnology. It turns out that the level of religious fervour is the most important factor in determining public acceptance to nanotechnology.
The correlation held even after controlling for other factors that influence attitudes to nanotechnology, like science literacy, educational performance, and levels of research productivity and funding directed to science and technology by different countries. And not only are religious countries more against nanotech, they are also less likely to think that nanotech is useful. In other words, their religious-based dislike of the idea of nanotech crosses over and affects their beliefs about the utility of it.
So why do religious people have the heebie jeebies about nanotech? The study doesn't answer that one, although it is likely to be similar to their abhorrence of hybrid embryos. It smacks of human beings getting too clever for their own good and playing god.
The survey findings, says Scheufele, are important not only because they reveal the paradox of citizens of one of the world's elite technological societies taking a dim view of the implications of a particular technology, but also because they begin to expose broader negative public attitudes toward science when people filter their views through religion.
"What we captured is nanospecific, but it is also representative of a larger attitude toward science and technology," Scheufele says. "It raises a big question: What's really going on in our public discourse where science and religion often clash?" (Press release)
But the implications for science communication are clear. This research fits into a wider picture of how public attitudes to science are shaped. Simple communication of facts will not change attitudes to science. You need to change worldviews.
Dietram A. Scheufele, Elizabeth A. Corley, Tsung-jen Shih, Kajsa E. Dalrymple, Shirley S. Ho (2008). Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States Nature Nanotechnology DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2008.361