Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nanoscientists meet nanocitizens in new video

British think tank Demos continues to play a leading role in gathering scientists and what I've called "consumers of science" together in one room to discuss the necessary tug-of-war between progress and price, between the possible and the desirable, when it comes to nanotechnology.

Between the work of Demos in Britain and the Wilson Center in the United States, the cause of citizen involvement in nanotech development is off to a great start.

The video above shows a final citizen/nanoscientist workshop in Demos' two-year project with Lancaster University on nanotechnology and society. "Governing at the nanoscale."

Here is one of my favorite exchanges on the video:

Citizen: "I think you need to be quite clear that before something becomes a manufactured product and it sells on the marketplace, it has to be safe. Well, OK, within limits, within parameters and within a sensible area but somebody has got to take responsibility for saying that this minimum level of testing has to be performed."

Scientist: "I think as long as I’m honest, I say, ‘Look, I can do this, I can see it could do a lot of good, potentially, and I can’t see any serious way at the moment in which it could be misused,' then that would be fine. But for me to say that it can’t be misused, I think would be wrong. And for me to take away that decision from the public, to say ‘You’re not going to have any of the benefits or any of the drawbacks,' I think you have to let people be sensible."

I have heard echoes of these points of view quite often in my own conversations with concerned citizens and nanoscientists over the past few years. Most citizens understand that with progress also comes risk. What they want is accountability. Who is in charge of getting it right and who is responsible if something goes wrong?

While most nanotech scientists and business leaders are outraged at the thought of denying society the benefits of nanotechnology just because a few people are afraid something might go wrong.

There is room for compromise among thoughtful people. Keep talking.

Between hype and doom: keeping an eye on nanotech, by Jack Stilgoe
Open talk of risk 'makes business sense'
How to fight misinformation in two easy words: Honesty, imagination
Nano environment/policy papers
A new wrinkle for Eddie Bauer

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