Nanotechnology in the UK – judging the government’s performance

The Royal Society report on nanotechnology – Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties – was published in 2004, and the government responded to its recommendations early in 2005. At that time, many people were disappointed by the government response (see my commentary here); now the time has come to judge whether the government is meeting its commitments. The body that is going to make that judgement is the Council for Science and Technology. This is the government’s highest level advisory committee, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. The CST Nanotechnology Review is now underway, with a public call for evidence now open. Yesterday I attended a seminar in London organised by the working party.

I’ve written already of my disappointment with the government response so far, for example here, so you might think that I’d be confident that this review would be rather critical of the government. However, close reading of the call for evidence reveals a fine piece of “Yes Minister” style legerdemain; the review will judge, not whether the government’s response to the Royal Society report was itself adequate, but solely whether the government had met the commitments it made in that response.

One of the main purposes of yesterday’s seminar was to see if there had been any major new developments in nanotechnology since the publication of the Royal Society report. Some people expressed surprise at how rapid the introduction of nanotechnology into consumer products had been, though as ever it is difficult to judge how many of these applications can truly be described as nanotechnology, and equally how many other applications are in the market which do involve nanotechnology, but which don’t advertise the fact. However, one area in which there has been a demonstrable and striking proliferation is in nanotechnology road-maps, of which there are now, apparently, a total of seventy six.

2 thoughts on “Nanotechnology in the UK – judging the government’s performance”

  1. Perhaps your pessimism about the scope for criticism is not necessary. The second issue on which they ask for submissions – ‘the timeliness and effectiveness of the actions taken by Government’ – seems to offer an opportunity. It doesn’t include the weasel words found in either the first or third issues.

    If their response was inadequate, then presumably their actions will also have been so, and there’ll be plenty of examples of areas where they haven’t been effective. Starting with those areas that the Goverment didn’t address in its response!

    In principle, the examples showing lack of effectiveness will also themselves be the new evidence stipulated in the following paragraph as being necessary to re-examine the original commitments.

    But I expect there’ll be a ‘Catch 22’.

  2. Perhaps you’re right, Dave. I might say that the members of the working group at the seminar certainly didn’t seem to be showing any inclination to give the government an easy ride, and there were some very pointed questions being asked.

Comments are closed.