Thank you for the opportunity to read the preliminary report entitled Nanotechnology: views of Scientists and Engineers. I am a social scientist who specialises in policy analysis/issues germane to advanced health technologies and the life sciences industry (including nanomedicine). I do not have the requisite expertise to critique the scientific/engineering aspects of this work.
However, I did flag several issues from a policy/social perspective, and hope that the following brief comments are useful: Per page 6 (and in subsequent sections), I agree that it is crucial to develop a strategic vision. For instance, in addition to the Grenoble example cited in the document, the United States Congress just passed S. 189 (21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act) by a substantial and bipartisan margin (President Bush is expected to sign this legislation into law). This Act authorises approximately $3.7 billion USD to be spent on an accelerated national nanotechnology initiative over the next 4 years. The Act also establishes a White House National Nanotechnology Program Office, indicative of the seriousness with which both of the major political parties regard nanotechnology developments over the next 10 - 20 years. (President Clinton authorised the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the late 1990s. President Bush subsequently agreed that an NNI was crucial and even increased its funding. As with the space race in the 1960s, there is deep and substantial bipartisan support for overarching national nanotechnology goals.) Given the examples of Japan, South Korea, and now the United States, it is clear that nanotechnology will be a key priority and driver for nation-states that seek to become or remain technological powers.
Throughout the document, several references are made to identifying 'science fictions.' This approach is to be commended! My policy work focuses on the use of rhetoric and narrative to "frame" arguments vis a vis innovative health technologies. Pop culture references provide an easy and effective way for both opponents and proponents of new technologies to gain attention, but those who oppose certain technologies seem to have an 'edge' in terms of shaping the general debate. The ETC group in Canada, for example, refers to nanotechnology as 'atom technology.' I expect that such a discursive link encourages the public to link nanotechnology to nuclear power--a perception that could increase resistance to nanotechnology in general, particularly among environmental groups (and despite obvious 'green' applications such as bioremediation).
Finally, per page 23/Section D, I agree that 'better public understanding'
is crucial. However, within the social sciences and the arts, the Public Understanding
of Science (PUS) model is increasingly criticized for its alleged "top
down" approach. Indeed, the idea of 'providing better science information'
would be met in certain quarters as an approach that perpetuates an elitist
view of science and conceptualises the public as an 'empty vessel' into which
scientific 'truth' must be poured. Let me hasten to add that I do NOT think
this is your intent. My point is that the growing field of 'deliberative technology
assessment' is quite complex, and within it are streams that might bristle at
Again, I found the report most interesting--and look forward to reading the final report. Thank you very much for the opportunity to express my views. I would be happy, as well, to answer any questions per the above comments, if necessary.
Amy L. Fletcher