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Small science

"Small science" Continued...

Issue: "Muddy Gras," March 4, 2006

NNI spokeswoman Cate Alexander told WORLD that the report "is not an NNI output and is not indicative of the NNI agenda."

For now, it seems the people with the most direct influence on nanotechnology are the scientists actually doing the research. And scientists have a way of surprising the public. When a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher announced he had isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998, it was almost three years before the president announced a policy limiting funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Congress continues to debate whether to expand or refine Mr. Bush's policy.

David Guston, director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University, wants to help nanotechnology avoid a mess like the stem-cell debacle. At the AAAS meeting, he explained the center's plans to scour scientific journals and interview researchers about current and upcoming developments in nanotechnology. Center staff members would share the information with citizen groups and give their feedback to the scientists.

That could be an important time for those concerned with the ethical and real-life implications of nanotechnology to step forward. "There is so little interest in having this conversation in the churches. Basically people are pro-life, but they think, 'technology is wonderful and what's for dinner?'" said Mr. Cameron.

The "Real-Time Technology Assessment" project aims to help scientists incorporate the public's values in their decisions. At the least, it will help the public see what is coming before, as Mr. Guston put it, "out from the lab pops a technology that's relatively cleanly black-boxed and, oh, society has to deal with it."

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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