Monday, July 05, 2004

You may say he's a dreamer ...

Amen, Brother Lawrence -- another voice to take me out of the wilderness. Lawrence Lessig writes in Wired's "Stamping Out Good Science":

    Then things turned really ugly. For it wasn't enough for some to argue against building tiny assemblers. The world of federal funding would only be safe, critics believed, if the idea of bottom-up nanotech could be erased. Molecular manufacturing, Smalley asserted, was "just a dream," and "simple facts of nature [would] prevent it from ever becoming a reality." In an ideal world, such scientific controversy would be settled by science. But not this time: Without public debate, funding for such "fantasy" was cut from the NNI-authorizing statute. Thanks to Senator John McCain, not a single research proposal for molecular manufacturing is eligible for federal dollars.

    But as Clayton Teague, director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, later told me, it's hard to call molecular manufacturing "impossible" when it's precisely what living cells do every moment of the day. It may be hugely complex, he said, and as all agree, it is certainly years away. "But I would hesitate," this sensible administrator admitted, "to call it impossible."

    So why do some scientists say it can't be done? As the editors of Chemical & Engineering News put it, Smalley's "objections go beyond the scientific." They are a strategy - if so-called dangerous nanotech can be relegated to summer sci-fi movies and forgotten after Labor Day, then serious work can continue, supported by billion-dollar funding and uninhibited by the idiocy that buries, for example, stem cell research.

    Given the politics of science, this strategy is understandable. Yet it is a strategy inspired not by the laws of nature but by the perverse nature of how we make laws. We are cowards in the face of Bill Joy's nightmare. We dissemble rather than reason, because we can't imagine rational government policy addressing these reasonable fears. More here.

Related Small Times column
Nano re-created in business's image; is this the best of all futures?

Related Posts
First, blame the media
Choose your own 'irrational' scenario

1 comment:

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