Nanotech Authority

August 9th, 2004

Posted by: admin

A recent report by Britain’s Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering entitled ‘Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties’, calls for public debate regarding the development of nanotechnologies and research into their health and environmental effects.

The report has occasioned editorials such as one posted on SciDev.Net by David Dickson.

Dickson suggests the report points to two key challenges facing nanotechnology and nanoscience: adequately ensuring that nanotechnologies address the needs of the world’s poor and building social markets favorable to nanotechnologies.

To address the risk of a “nano-divide” between the world’s rich and poor nations, Dickson calls for the development of nanotech skills among poorer nations, dissemination channels for nano products, and informed public debate.

Characterizing the content of this debate, Dickson writes: “informed public debate…must include authoritative information about potential health and environmental consequences; there is no room for those who dismiss all such concerns as merely the unreasonable demands of whose who seek a risk-free society.”

It is not always clear on what basis information should be considered “authoritative” nor who should decide this. The approach outlined by Dickson would seem to include information and demands that might otherwise be disqualified on the grounds of being “unreasonable.” This type of approach may be encouraging to those who would make such demands, but it stops short of outlining what counts as “reasonable.”

While defining “reasonable demands” is risky business, without clear parameters, what gets debated could too easily be determined by the agendas of those who get to decide, rather than by a reasonable process.

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