Nanotechnology and Public Interest Dialogue: Some International Observations
Bowman, Diana M.
Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
Vol. 27, Num. 4
How is the public interest affected by the development of nanotechnology? Although nanotechnology R&D investment totalled US $9.6 billion in 2005, the public has yet to grasp the implications of nanoproducts nor yet adopt a good governing structure for development in the field.
Bowman and Hodge note that although the term 'public interest' is "straightforward enoughit represents the common good, the collective good, the public benefit, or the national benefit, which are accessible to everyone(Mulgan, 2000)." But who sets the policy creating the specifics of public good is a political, contestable and deeply interested process. "The article maps a range of nanotechnology dialogue activities under way" in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, and Australia.
In the UK, public dialogue is being shaped by a variety of NGOs, the media and other stakeholders. In the US, corporations, federal initiatives and agencies and university research projects dominate the dialogue and press. In Germany, a 'traveling' public dialogue, sponsored by the federal government, and a few other government-related initiatives has been spurred by and developed since the "Magic Nano" incident. In Australia, a mixture of corporate, NGOs and governmental agencies have been involved.
While a range of priorities, participants, approaches and activities exist, the general public presence of nanotechnology has been very quiet. Nevertheless, governments are choosing to engage in regulation, rather than wait for trouble -- but even so, possibly the field is just one industrial accident away from a different landscape and dialogue. In sum, Bowman and Hodge say, their "analysis suggests that a wide range of strategic approaches are currently under way across the world with differing approaches to funding levels, innovativeness, visibility, and transparency. These in part reflect the different political and historical perspectives including, for example, reliance on the precautionary principle and the occurrence or avoidance of regulatory 'failures.'" Finally, "strong dialogue activities for protecting the public interest are likely to be necessary for nations actively pursuing a 'nanofuture.'"