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Nanotechnology and Nanoscience The Royal Society

Nanotechnology: Civil Society Groups

Lessons from GM

It was agreed that there were lessons to be learnt from recent debates about controversial technologies, particularly GM, which could be applied to the nanotechnology case and could suggest new forms of useful deliberation. The CS groups were asked what these lessons might be and made the following points:

  • One lesson from GM was that technological progress needed to slow down to keep pace with citizen deliberations and democratic controls, and decision-making. This raises concerns in so far as it appears that there are already ‘nano’ products in the marketplace. There has also been an injection of funding into nanotechnology, with little evidence that this is linked into societal needs.

  • Another lesson was that technology should not be imposed on the public. If the public perceive this to be the case with nanotechnology, this will be problematic, even if this perception is inaccurate (for example, secondary effects of nanoparticulates in air).

  • One view was that CS groups were forced into taking an extreme view of GM, which led to an unhelpful polarisation and lack of debate. In order to avoid a recurrence of this situation with nanotechnology, a space where a range of stakeholders – scientists, government representatives, civil society groups, industry – can communicate is needed. Some attendees felt that now is a prime time to instigate this process, as there is an increasing desire amongst scientists to act as citizens, and, post-GM, an awareness amongst business of the importance of engagement.

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The Royal Society 2003
The Royal Academy of Engineering