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Reconfiguring Responsibility, Deepening Debate on Nanotechnology

We need to open up the politics of responsible development. Nanotechnology is currently a focus for much excitement and anxiety, and the notion of ‘responsible development’, with its emphasis on safe and beneficial innovation, lies at the heart of current thinking on its governance. But what does responsible development mean in practice? And how can the development of new technologies be infused with the values of democracy and public participation? This report argues that, if responsible development is to succeed in opening up public debate on nanotechnology, it needs to be substantially rethought.

Download this report here.

Public hysteria about technology - where’s the evidence?

It’s a widely held view that the public is anti-technology. Attitudes are often described as ‘hysterical’, ’irrational’ and ‘emotional’. This week the media reports the European Science Chief, Anne Glover as saying antipathy to GM ‘a form of madness’! Some policy makers, scientists and business people have suggested that the public’s fear of technology is holding back science, slowing innovation, preventing technologies from reaching their potential. But what if that’s not true? What if an incorrect perception of public views of technology is leading policy makers and businesses to make erroneous judgements about innovation pathways? What if they themselves are negatively affecting the development of specific technologies and applications in response to a public attitude that isn’t the reality for the vast majority of people and in anticipation of a backlash that looks unlikely to materialise?

There will always be disagreement about policy directions, it is the nature of a democracy, it happens in every area of life, and will never go away. But as Ann Glover says on BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific her job is to provide evidence on science to help policy makers. It appears to me that policy makers should consider and respond to the evidence on public attitudes to contentious areas of science more carefully, rather than rely on their perceptions of what the public thinks to shape their approach.

This brief paper explores why the evidence points to the public having a much more thoughtful and nuanced view of technology than is generally perceived and begins to explore how research and innovation can be better aligned with public’s values, views and behaviours.

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Towards a sustainable and responsible development of Nanotechnologies

Nanotechologies are one of the most important technological innovation of the 21st century and could improve the quality of our life. Materia can be manipulated at the nanoscale thanks to its own physical and chemical properties at this level, and the potential applications are considered endless. The development of nanotechnologies deals with material science, medicine, renewable energy, electronics and communication, cosmetics and chemical, construction and may have a great impact on a wide range of industries through the creation of new jobs, the change of citizens’ way of life and the contribution to economic growth. However, nanotechnologies and manufactured nanomaterials are not completely safe. The production and use of these revolutionary innovations could release free engineered nanoparticles on environment with many risks for humans and animals. People don’t know exactly what nanotechnologies are and what could be the risks for their health. Institutions, scientists and industries must reply to many questions and issues linked to these technologies in order to achieve a sustainable and responsible development of Nanotechnologies.

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Technology Sector Evaluation: Health, Medicine & Nanobio, by ObservatoryNano

Nanotechnology has found applications in many industries. Nanomedicine has grown as a discipline in itself and the development of novel structures and advances in nanomaterials is fuelling growth and innovation in the area. The potential of nanotechnology in medicine has been recognised, and a significant amount of funding has been provided to the sector. The number of conferences taking place around the globe on nanotechnology in medicine is an indicator of the interest and potential offered by nanoscience and nanotechnology. The Cancer Nanotechnology Plan by the National Cancer Institute in US and the European Technology Platform Nanomedicine have set out plans for the future research activities needed in the area. A roadmap project which sets out the timeframe for nanomedicine applications has been supported by the European Commission (EC). Several other projects relating to nanomedicine have been funded by the EC 6th and 7th Framework programmes. Many national and pan-European networks also exist, with the aim of bringing together stakeholders to discuss and share information. Nanomednet in the UK, Nanoned in Netherlands, the Spanish nanomedicine platform, CC-NanoBioTech in Germany, and the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine (CLINAM) are examples of such networks which aim to bridge the gap between different groups including scientists, industry, clinicians, investors and policy makers.

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Ethical and Societal Aspects of Nanotechnology Enabled ICT and Security Technologies, by ObservatoryNano

In this report, public debates and literature on ethical and societal aspects of nanotechnology in ICT and security, and civil‐military dual use aspects of nanotechnology are discussed. The main aim is to identify new or persistent issues in these debates that merit the attention of policy makers responsible for nanotechnology in Europe. Another aim is to raise awareness of these issues among the partners in the ObservatoryNano project responsible for reports on technical and economic trends in two of the ten technology sectors covered by the ObservatoryNano: ICT and security.

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A new integrated approach to the responsible development of nanotechnologies, by Framing Nano

This document is the final report of the FramingNano FP7 research project and contains the final proposal of the FramingNano Governance Platform which has been elaborated and refined during the project.

This report includes inputs and comments on the draft Governance Platform gathered during a restricted Expert Workshop and an International Conference, as well as additional detailed background information on the project methodology. The principal basis for the proposed Governance Platform derives from a two-stage Delphi consultation among interested nanotechnology stakeholders, the outcomes of a dialogue of a multi-stakeholder workshop. The conclusions and recommendations in this document represent the result of the entire research of the FramingNano project and the opinion of the FramingNano project consortium.

In the opening chapter of this report (“The FramingNano Governance Platform”) the proposal for a Governance Platform is presented, which was the objective of the FramingNano project. In the following two chapters, “Outlining the Problem of Nano Governance” and “Stakeholder Opinions on Nano Governance”, some of the research results which have been gained throughout the project on nanotechnology governance are reported in detail.

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Mapping study on regulation and governance of nanotechnologies, by Framing Nano

The objective of this report is to provide a picture of recent developments regarding regulation and governance of NS&T in Europe and worldwide, to identify relevant NS&T stakeholder organisations and to make an assessment of this information to prepare the ground for the  following phases of the FramingNano project, i.e. the consultative process among stakeholders and the definition of a Governance Plan for the responsible development of NS&T.

The report (and the FramingNano project in general) focuses on regulation and governance aimed at both risks and concerns (perception of risks), with respect to EHS and ELSI issues, that have to be understood and “framed” or “guided”. Talking about risk assessment is instrumental in defining a regulatory framework. But benefits and opportunities, besides risks, will also be considered as a necessary element of the debate. In the end, governance must always take into account the tradeoff between these two opposing factors.

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Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Impacts | Technology Sector Evaluation: Energy by ObservatoryNano

The EHS analysis of the energy sector considers nanomaterials outlined within the context of their application and provides a summary of what is known in relation to potential exposure to the material in question. The analysis further outlines some key EHS considerations and basic guidance for those developing or using the technologies outlined within the report.

For all of those nanoparticles identified as having potential EHS impact, toxicological knowledge is still emerging, although based on what is known to date a reasonable approximation of potential hazard may be made. The key common knowledge gap across all nanoparticles however is the lack of exposure measurements for the scenarios and applications in question. As the ObservatoryNANO Project progresses, it is expected that these knowledge gaps will be addressed (at least in part) and thus that later EHS reports will be able to reach more resolute conclusions on the risks posed by those nanomaterials in consideration.

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Ethical and social issues in nanobiotechnologies

Nanobiotechnologies represent a rapidly growing field of interest. Several European conferences during the past year have highlighted the wideranging potential of applying techniques at the molecular and atomic levels to understand and transform biosystems, and of using biological principles and materials to create new devices at the nanoscale. This convergence of disciplines holds great promise in medicine for improved diagnostics, less invasive monitoring devices and more targeted therapies, and also has potential for agricultural and environmental applications. However, relatively little has been written about the ethical and social implications of this emerging research area. This article seeks to examine some of these questions, and is based on a report produced by the ethical, legal and social advisory (ELSA) board of the Nano2Life European Network of Excellence in Nanobiotechnology (Bruce, 2006).

The Nano2All project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, under the Grant Agreement Number 685931.
This website reflects only the author's view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

 

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