Experts and the public generally differ in their perceptions of technology risk. While this might be due to social and demographic factors, it is generally assumed by scientists who conduct risk research that experts' risk assessments are based more strongly on actual or perceived knowledge about a technology than lay people's risk assessments. Nevertheless, whether the risks are real or not, the public perception of an emerging technology will have a major influence on the acceptance of this technology and its commercial success. If the public perception turns negative, potentially beneficial technologies will be severely constrained as is the case for instance with gene technology. It is not surprising that a new study found that, in general, nanoscientists are more optimistic than the public about the potential benefits of nanotechnology. What is surprising though, is that, for some issues related to the environmental and long-term health impacts of nanotechnology, nanoscientists seem to be significantly more concerned than the public. Arguing that risk communication on nanotechnologies requires target-specific approaches, a group of researchers in Germany advocate the development of communication strategies that help people to comprehend nanotechnology, to differentiate between the fields of application and to gain an understanding of the cause and effect chains.
Most products today are defined as 'nanotechnology product' because they contain nanoparticles in some form or other. For instance, many antimicrobial coatings contain silver in nanoscale form; food products and cosmetics contain nanoparticles; drug formulations are made with nanoscale ingredients; and some products are partially made with composite materials containing nanomaterials (e.g. carbon nanotubes or carbon nanofibers) to mechanically strengthen the material. Two researchers from the Norwegian National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Harald Throne-Holst and Pal Strandbakken, argue that consumer rights in the nanotechnology age are not self-evident but rather have to be strengthened, partly redefined and certainly revived in order to empower and protect consumers.
Humans have always tried to improve themselves through 'natural methods' such as physical exercise, diet, meditation, education and training. However, as a new report on human enhancement points out, with ongoing work to unravel the mysteries of our minds and bodies, coupled with the art and science of emerging technologies, we are near the start of the Human Enhancement Revolution. Technology will be a big game changer. While previously technological progress has improved the tools we work with, from the printing press to the steam engine to computers, in the future, technology will change ourselves, our bodies and, possibly, even our minds. A new addresses questions and issues surrounding human enhancement, an area that will become more prominent as advances in nanotechnology, nanomedicine, bionics, synthetic biology and related fields move from the lab to real-world applications.
Nanotechnology plays, or rather: will play, a major role in technical and biological human enhancement. A recently released study commissioned by the European Parliament attempts to bridge the gap between visions on human enhancement and the relevant technoscientific developments. It outlines possible strategies of how to deal with human enhancement in a European context, identifying a reasoned pro-enhancement approach, a reasoned restrictive approach and a case-by-case approach as viable options for the EU. The authors propose setting up a European body for the development of a normative framework that guides the formulation of EU policies on human enhancement.
As nanotechnologies are increasingly becoming the focus of public interests and concerns, there is a risk that public opinion is shaped by either fearmongering or unrealistic expectations. Public engagement in policy making, i.e. having a say in decisions about technological developments that will affect people's lives significantly, should be based on objective information and facts. Public engagement is one of the processes that allows for increased social inclusion. Engagement seeks to achieve increased two-way information flow and knowledge exchange as well as increase overall technological literacy. Previously, we have reported about a German approach to embedding nanotechnology developments in society and covered the social aspects of nanotechnology in Europe. Today, we are showcasing an example from Down Under.
A recent report gives an overview of how five jurisdictions (US, UK, EU, Australia and Canada) reacted to the recent emergence of nanotechnology-based products in the marketplace and it describes how this triggered activities in three domains: (a) public and stakeholder debate, (b) development of initial policy options, and (c) the management of regulatory development in a situation of scarce data. The bulk of the report describes the current situation (up to March 2009) in the five jurisdictions and this part doesn't contain information that hasn't already been covered elsewhere. In analyzing this data, however, the authors make some interesting observations and attempt to develop a set of six key regulatory governance principles that they propose for consideration by regulators.
In case you want to get up to date on what's happening around the world with regard to the development of risk governance for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics, a new report just out from the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) provides a good overview. An early version of this report was originally written as a briefing paper for an expert workshop organized by the IRGC in 2008. It is also a companion to the IRGC Policy Brief due for publication in early 2009. While this report does not include any primary research, is is a useful primer for anyone who wants to get an overview of what is happening in this area. IRGC is an independent organisation whose purpose is to help the understanding and management of global risks that impact on human health and safety, the environment, the economy and society at large. The organization's focus on risk governance strategies for nanotechnology applications in food and cosmetics is based on rising public concerns.
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. In its advanced form, which should be achieved within the next decade or two, the technology will allow a revolution in manufacturing - building powerful products with atomic precision from the bottom up - and could fundamentally alter our ability to confront challenging issues such as climate change. In the United States, a new President is about to take office, and is expected to bring with him a totally new outlook on science. We think it?s important now to let Mr. Obama and his advisors know the most important factors about the near future of nanotechnology and its potential impacts, especially as it relates to climate change.