Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Beware the well-meaning Westerner

This spin on UNESCO's Ethics and Politics of Nanotechnology report concludes that developing nations are unlikely to lag behind the industrial world in nanotech research (this is correct, since poorer nations will likely focus nano research on their specific needs). But then it explores some dangerous, deadly territory:

The report's editor, John Daly, says there is an urgent need for scientists to explore the potential hazards of nanotechnology, because materials at the nanoscale behave differently to how they do in bulk.

"Where the effects of the nanomaterials are dangerous, regulation may be appropriate. But we don't have a very good understanding of where those dangers lie," he told SciDev.Net. More here

Proceed with caution here. Remember DDT? The industrialized world, having already eradicated malaria in its own backyard, decided to impose DDT bans on the developing world. The result has been death in Biblical proportions. Beware the well-meaning Westerner who believes he knows what is best for the rest.

If you don't believe me, listen to buckyball co-discoverer Sir Harry Kroto, who wrote in 2003:

"Malaria has returned with a vengeance, and it is heart-rending that because of the DDT embargo - imposed with the future (mainly of westerners) in mind - a million African children die each year."

Update: Andrew Leonard, my old editor at Salon (well, for the one article I did for Salon) has an excellent commentary on the blurry line between present-day nanotech reality and imagined dystopias.

Without DDT, malaria bites back
The Malaria Clock
Death by Environmentalist

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