Nanowerk brings to our attention a new report Democratic technologies? The final report of the Nanotechnology Engagement Group (pdf) which examines the success or otherwise of various attempts at public engagement in nanotech. The foreword by Prof. Richard Jones ends:
This report summarises the experiences of public engagement on nanotechnologies that have taken place over the last few years. The story isn’t straightforward; there have been difficulties. Different groups have had expectations that were not aligned, and the uncertain nature of the subject itself has sometimes made it hard to focus the discussions. For some, the aspirations they had for the processes have not been immediately fulfilled. Nonetheless, I believe that the activities outlined in this report are just the start of a very positive movement that seeks to answer a compelling question: how can we ensure that the scientific enterprise is directed in pursuit of societal goals that command broad democratic support?
That last question is a tough one. Public research funds should go toward goals supported by the public, and our representative governmental systems are supposed to ensure that. Do they? How about private research funds: can they pursue goals not supported by the majority? We don’t want a system where the public votes on how private science dollars are spent, do we? Unless they are violating a specific law, presumably. Deep issues. —Christine