Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Responsibility and Nanotechnology

McCarthy, Elise

Journal Information:
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 40, Num. 3


This paper compares responsibility to risk and decides that the language of risk has failed, leaving new terms and ideas of responsibility in science to provide regulatory lingo. The authors assert that any attempt at understanding something risks, as in the case of nanotechnology, inherently leads one to seek responsibility as a corollary. For the authors, it was the request that scientists not be given too much responsibility, the frame of the tractability or do-ability of responsibilČity, we argue, that allowed us to make sense of ][nanotechnologists] actions, choices, and language. In investigating the differences between responsibility and risk, the authors first divide the former into two categories, individual and collective, that determine the depth of the ethical questions involved. Moving from risk perception to acceptance of responsibility, the authors argue, makes for do-able ethics from which most ethicists seem to shy away. While the language of risk is fraught with negative connotations and limits on what science can do, they see responsibility as a far more positive idea, where, limits are placed not on what can be done but how it should be undertaken.