Tiny Particles Spark Big Debate

New report focuses on social and ethical issues of nanotechnology

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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• Emphasizes how social and ethical issues intersect with government functions and responsibilities.

Eight further chapters deal in more detail with misconceptions about social and ethical issues, social context issues, contested moral issues, and form of life issues.

Summing up, the report describes the effort to develop effective responses to social and ethical issues  associated with emerging nanotechnologies as “inadequate — stymied by misconception of what the issues are, why they are crucial to responsible development and how to proactively address them.”

“Emerging nanotechnologies offer a unique opportunity to make social (not just technological) progress through broad, innovative, forward-looking responsible development. These are opportunities not to be missed,” concludes the report.


The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology is considering legislation that will strengthen federal efforts to learn more about the potential environmental, health and safety risks posed by engineered nanomaterials, as well as the ethical and societal aspects of the technology, according to the PEN.

Nanotechnology, it points out, promises to usher in the next industrial revolution and is the focus of an annual $1.5 billion federal research investment. It adds that the new bill (HR 554) is almost identical to legislation that passed the House last year with overwhelming bi-partisan support by a  407 to six vote. Although the Senate was expected to mark up similar legislation, lawmakers ran out of time during the session.

"Every emerging technology offers us a new opportunity to engage stakeholders in a social and ethical debate. The nanotech revolution is still beginning and we still have time for an open and public discussion of its consequences, both intended and unintended. Hopefully, this paper will provide a framework for thinking through some of those impacts, particularly as the legislative debate on reauthorizing the federal nanotech program moves forward,” notes Rejeski.

To view a full copy of the report, visit: www.nanotechproject.org/news/archive/ethical_evaluations_nanotechnology 


Seán Ottewell is Editor at Large for Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.

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