Policy and governance of nanotech must be rethought, report

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ethics

There are ‘entrenched failings’ in the current policy and governance of nanotechnology, according to a report from EU-funded project Deepen.

The project led by Professor Philip Macnaghten at the Univeristy of Durham, UK, included work from researchers at the University of Twente, Netherlands, University of Coimbra, Portugal, and Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany.

With the aim of examining the ethics of nanotechnology and related policy, this three year EU-funded project has concluded that there must be a substantial rethink of the debate on nanotechnology if responsible development is to succeed.

The report criticises the debate of being ‘subsumed by banal calculations of ‘risks vs. benefits’​’ that leave little room for ‘public narratives of technoscientific failure’​.

In addition, the public involvement in the debate has been limited by flawed methods and misleading foci, according to the report.

“However seductive the vision of untrammelled technological development with no negative consequences is, thinking in these terms is hindering, not helping, debate on nanotechnology,”​ the report states.

Within the first section of the report the Deepen team come up with a number of recommendations for how public policy should proceed in this area of research.

Scientists themselves must get involved in the ethical questions, rather than taking the view that scientists do the science and ethicists take care of the ethics, the team argues.

Public attitudes are complex

Policy makers must be aware that the concerns of the public are complex and do not reflect the idea that technology and science moving forward will inevitably bring benefits for society.

Concerns focus on five areas which are deeply embedded in European culture that include ‘Be careful what you wish for’, ‘Messing with nature’ and ‘Opening Pandora’s Box’.

Policy makers and governance bodies need to give more thought to how the public’s complex attitudes can be understood and measured, according to the report.

The focus of public debate should be moved on from theoretical questions of what the technology may​ provide for society and focus on concrete debates on actual developments.

To meet these challenges, new methods of debate and deliberation must be created, the report argues and the debate in general must be rethought.

The report can be downloaded from the Deepen website.

If you would like to comment on this story and the issues covered by the report please e mail katie.bird ‘at’ decisionnews.com.

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