Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this. I make 3 main observations:

1) Context
A number of comments are made about future beneficial applications of nanotech but nowhere is there an effective discussion of how likely it is that these applications will be properly researched, developed and deployed. Without this context there is a danger of this technical forward look lapsing into techno-utopianism divorced from the likely or probable outcomes (which could be very different from those hoped for).

2) Risks
A number of references are made to risks or areas of concern including nanobiotechnology. However although raised (rather oddly under 3d 'science fiction') the possibilities are nowhere properly explored although this is an area that needs some expert focus and discussion.

Although this 'science fiction' section also discusses the 'grey goo' scenario it does not discuss the more limited molecular assembly that may be achievable without going as far as self-replicating nanobots. I am not in a position to comprehensively scientifically review e.g. claims by Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology that such a prospect is currently feasible within the budget of something similar to the 'Apollo' programme, but limited molecular assembly would be profoundly significant in social and environmental terms and should be considerably closer than self replication; focusing purely on self-replicating nanobots tends to obscure the much nearer-at-hand possibilities.

In section 3e reference is made to regulations that exist to prevent uncontrolled release of hazardous materials. I am unaware of any regulatory arrangement that identifies the novel hazard characteristics associated with nanoparticles. I am unaware of any evidence that "companies had learned the lessons associated with these hazards". In fact by contrast I would observe that the behaviour of companies in relation to the uncertainties over the health and environmental impacts of nanoparticles looks rather similar to previous situations where companies forged ahead before proper scientific characterisation of the hazards or extent of the risks.

Section 7b refers to health & environment issues. The third para relates to nanotubes incorporated into materials and that this was thought not to be a risk. I would be grateful if the people who voiced that opinion could supply the evidence as I am not aware of it.

3) Public attitudes and values
I'm afraid section 7d is way off-beam and should be simply missed out rather than have scientists and engineers pronouncing in areas which they clearly do not understand.(By contrast can you imagine the ridicule that would greet historians of science getting together to pronounce on the scientific merits of aspects of nanotechnology?) The text is heavily predicated on the deficit-model of public understanding of science which has been more or less jettisoneed by anyone who has tried it or understands public communication for the simple reason that it doesn't work and is based on a range of misconceptions about how people understand science and scientific innovation. It also refers to a 'public perception of nanotechnology'. As far as I am aware there is no public perception of nanotechnology. Most people haven't heard of it and the majority of them have probably not developed a view except in as much as they view it like other technological innovations.

Any attempt to comment in this area should draw on the expertise of social scientists who understand this area.

Doug Parr
Dr. Douglas Parr
Chief Scientific Adviser