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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Nanoethics as a Discipline?

By Adam Keiper
The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society
Originally published in 2007, but still relevant today

Here is an excerpt:

The growing interest among academics and activists in the implications of nanotechnology is surely, in some ways, to be welcomed. Serious scholarship and responsible advocacy can serve to enlighten and invigorate policy disputes and thereby play an important role in democratic self-rule. After all, as anyone who follows nanotech policy debates even from a distance can tell you, those debates are awash in spin and misinformation. Environmental groups exaggerate the known dangers of nanoparticles. Firms involved in nanotech investment vie with one another in hyping their projections of how many trillions of dollars the “nanotechnology market,” defined as expansively as possible, will be worth in a few years’ time. Some analysts are ludicrously credulous, while others are just plain confused — like the panelist at a conference in Washington in April 2006 who fretted about Pentagon-funded research on nanosatellites. (Nanosatellites are just small satellites; they have even less to do with nanotechnology than Apple’s “iPod nano” does.) Commentators who are ill-informed or disingenuous or just “shooting from the lip” may, in time, cede the sound bites and the airwaves to the growing ranks of better-informed and more responsible scholars — or at least that’s the theory.

Indeed, that theory seems itself to be the core of nanoethics at the moment. A recurring theme in much of the social-science writing about nanotechnology is the importance of social-science writing about nanotechnology. When you sift through the growing piles of scholarship about media coverage of nanotechnology, about the public understanding of and attitudes toward nanotechnology, about whether there are multiple “publics” who need to be “engaged” in nanotech policy, one sentiment in particular becomes clear — social scientists’ sense of self-importance.

The entire article is here.

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