Thailand’s NANOTEC (National Nanotechnology Center) is the source for this Oct. 2011 news item about a commentary in the journal Nature Nanotechnology,
Five years ago, the first issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology was published. Chris Toumey [Chris Toumey is at the University of South Carolina NanoCenter] asks, in this article, what progress has been made in efforts to engage the public in decisions about nanotechnology since that first issue. In that first issue, he described the idea of “democratizing science”, which he defines as a “state of affairs in which non-experts have active and constructive roles in science policy decisions.” The thought at the time was that nanotechnology would become a laboratory for experimenting with the idea of democratizing science.
Toumey’s Oct. 7, 2011 Nature Nanotechnology commentary, Democratizing nanotech, then and now, (this article seems to be open access for all) posits two scenarios,
If democratizing science is going to happen, and especially if it is going to become standard practice in the formulation of science policy, then it needs to navigate a course between two undesirable options. First, we do not want science policy determined by political values that disregard scientific knowledge. … Second, we want to avoid forcing science policy on a population that resents it, even if the policy is grounded in good scientific knowledge.
After including observations from social scientists in the US and the UK, Toumey concludes,
Even though public engagement with nanotechnology is less than what we hoped it would be by now, and even though nanotechnology is an extremely difficult test case for democratizing science, it is still one of the best laboratories we have for creating ways for non-experts to have active and constructive roles in science policy decision processes.
Just a few days before Nature Nanotechnology published Toumey’s commentary, Nanoforum.org published an Oct. 5, 2011 press release about Ineke Malsch’s attainment of her PhD. The reason this news is included here is that Malsch’s thesis (Ethics and nanotechnology; Responsible development of nanotechnology at global level in the 21st century) also discusses nanotechnology and democracy (from the press release),
In a third step, the variety of discussions among stakeholders and ethicists and social scientists about ethical aspects of nanotechnology are analysed. Three types of discussions can be distinguished. The first is about the question of precautionary governance of unknown risks of engineered nanomaterials. The second deals with applications of nanotechnologies in products and systems that have already given rise to ethical and societal issues that may be influenced by the uptake of nanotechnology. The third type of discussions is concerned with early governance of new emerging technologies. Proposed solutions are ethical reflection, regulation and democratising decision making on technology development. [emphasis mine]
I found this description for Malsch on the The Broker website where she provides commentary on nanotechnology, public dialogue, technology impacts on developed and developing worlds, etc.,
Ineke Malsch is an independent consultant and science writer on technology and society and director of Malsch TechnoValuation, founded in Utrecht, the Netherlands in 1999. She has graduated in Physics from the University of Utrecht in 1991 and specialized in Environmental Impact Assessment and Science and Technology Studies. She has extensive experience in European research policy including at the European Parliament (STOA unit) and at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville, Spain, as well as in EU-funded projects. She has also been involved in projects for the Rathenau Institute for Parliamentary Technology Assessment in the Netherlands, several magazines and other clients.
The press release about Malsch’s attainment of her PhD and her thesis concludes with this,
Firstly, nanotechnology should contribute to the three core values of the ecumenical process of the World Council of Churches: Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation. [emphasis mine] These values are inspired by a communitarian perspective, yet sufficiently universal to be supported by adherents of other religions and worldviews. By replacing security with peace as a core value, the traditional responsibility of sovereign states for guaranteeing its citizens’ right to security is respected. In addition, it gives private stakeholder groups room for contributing to preventing and solving conflicts. These contributions include participation in dialogue. [emphasis mine] Furthermore, private actors can participate in projects aimed at sustainable environmental development and at fighting poverty. These same projects can contribute to the second value: justice. Churches and other religious groups have so far limited themselves mainly to discussions about the impact of nanotechnology on integrity of creation. In these discussions, it is important to carefully weigh different arguments and listen carefully to representatives of groups adhering to different views of humankind and the world. Each distinct value community gives room for different interpretations of what it means to be human. Based on their own responsibility, religious groups should furthermore broaden their engagement to encompass all three core values of the ecumenical process. This is because their conviction is essential for contributing to responsible development of (nano) technology.
Secondly, the current dialogue on and development of nanotechnology is fragmented. This endangers the aim of responsible development of nanotechnology at global scale. Therefore the distinct loose dialogues and initiatives should be connected. This includes discussions on competitiveness. This is a precondition for achieving a fair outcome balancing the interests of all stakeholders, including citizens of industrialised countries.
I have no problems with peace and justice but I’m not sure what “integrity of creation” (perhaps something along the lines of ‘respect for life on the planet’?) means. While I have to admit the reference to churches had my stomach sinking, the overall theme of a “fair outcome balancing interests of all stakeholders” seems unexceptionable to me.
At any rate, I haven’t posted about democracy and nanotechnology for a while and I think this will fill the void for a time.