Enough talk already

Nature this week carries an editorial about the recent flurry of activity around public engagement over nanotechnology. This is generally upbeat and approving, reporting the positive side of the messages from the final report of the Nanotechnology Engagement Group, and highlighting some of the interesting outcomes of the Nanodialogues experiments. The Software Control of Matter blog even gets a mention as a “taste of true upstream thinking by nanoscientists”.

As usual, the editorial castigates the governments of the USA and the UK for not responding to the results of this public engagement, particularly in failing to get enough research going on potential environmental and health risks of nanoparticles. “These governments and others not only need to act on this outcome of public engagement, but must also integrate such processes into their departments’ and agencies’ activities.” To be fair, I think we are beginning to see the start of this, in the UK at least.

4 thoughts on “Enough talk already”

  1. There has been a lot of talk, a lot with ‘I’, as in, ‘I am going to do this and I will profit thus’, and not so much we. An observation was made recently on the floor at Camp One that there are a lot of people talking about the issues surrounding Nanotechnology, and some even repeating themselves over and over in different places with slight variations in nuance, but essentially saying the same thing.
    On of the reasons for this, it was decided and as we have discovered, is the incredibly high cost of the infrastructure required to experiment with even rudimentary tools in the field. While the costs are coming down at a rapid rate, it is not a field for the scientific faint of heart either on the exploration side or the funding side.
    I agree that the UK and the EU in general are leading others in the rest of the world primarily because the advancement of the scientific literacy of a these countries is seen as a sovereign necessity.
    While I have spoken in tis venue before, and shall not repeat myself here, about the revolt brewing amongst the young teachers movement, it is my hope that the movement has begun, will embrace as well this new and exciting field and that the rest of the world will follow.
    For ourselves, if I am allowed a brief ‘All about me’ moment. We have recently confirmed an order for for two ‘Orbitrap’ Spectrometers, and while they are not directly associated with Nano, they will contribute greatly to our molecular visualization adventure. As well we have received our first AFM/STM suite which will go on line when the network launches in September.
    As to the closing quote ‘These governments and others not only need to act on this outcome of public engagement, but must also integrate such processes into their departments’ and agencies’ activities.’ I suggest it is the responsibility of all engaged in this research to make the information created as understandable and freely available as possible, so the general literacy will continue to grow with real information. As well the Ideas Factory and Software Control of Matter, is, for us, what started it all.
    Thank you Richard for your continued support of this discussion venue.

  2. The editorial came as a pleasant surprise to us. And a really useful reminder to policy-makers that, as Brian Wynne put it on the day “the scientific community are really up for this.” Upstream engagement is now seen as a genuine opportunity, rather than a threat, which is a marked improvement on two years ago.

  3. Jack, much as I’d like to agree with you and Brian I wonder whether your sample of scientists is biased by the fact that the people you talk to by definition are at least open to the idea of upstream engagement. Still, I very much agree that the editorial was a welcome vote of confidence.

  4. Fair point. But our experience has also been that, when we have approached new groups of scientists, who may not have had any prior inclination to get engaged, they have on the whole found the discussions rewarding. There is a real sense among the scientific community that examples of upstream engagement do provide an opportunity for scientists to talk about things they don’t often get to talk about, an opportunity that has been seized. My conclusion is that the real work needs to be done in convincing policymakers.

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