As I trailed a couple of days ago, the Council for Science and Technology yesterday published their report assessing the UK government’s progress in meeting the commitments it made in response to the 2004 Royal Society report on Nanotechnology. The report, Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: A Review of Government’s Progress on its Policy Commitments (PDF, 327kB), is, as widely expected, rather critical of the Government’s response, particularly on the issue of funding research and providing an evidence base in the area of nanoparticle toxicology. This BBC online piece picks up most of the major themes.
The thrust of the report is unequivocal – the government promised an extensive program of research into the toxicology and health and environmental effects of nanomaterials, and this research has not happened. The reason for this is equally clear – money wasn’t set aside to fund it. Instead, it was decided to rely on scientists coming forward with funding proposals to be judged, in competition with proposals in other areas of science, by peer review. That this approach would prove to be completely inadequate was widely predicted at the time, and those predictions turned out to be entirely correct. As I wrote myself a year ago here: ‘This seems to me to be a category error – the science we need to underpin regulation isn’t necessarily good science as defined by peer review, and if the capacity to do the research isn’t there one can’t just expect it to appear spontaneously.”
The Science Minister, Malcolm Wicks, was questioned about the report on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today program. In his interview – downloadable here as an MP3 file (the interview is the last item) – he accepts the basic thrust of the criticism, but blames the reseach councils (in particular the Medical Research Council) for not being proactive, and scientists for not coming forward with the proposals. This, of course, is precisely the point. To be fair to him, he’s taking the flak for decisions made by his predecessor. A full, formal government response to the CST report will presumably follow.