Opposition to Nanotechnology

from the can-we-work-this-out? dept.
Three Nanodot readers wrote (see below) about The New York Times piece Opposition to Nanotechnology by Barnaby J. Feder, August 19, 2002, which reports that "nanotechnology is encountering the kind of real-world headwinds that have impeded biotechnology." The central focus of the article is the concerns of the ETC Group about nanoparticles in the environment penetrating living cells and accumulating in animal organs (see "Call for moratorium on commercial nanomaterials," Nanodot July 29, 2002).

The article notes that nanotechnology critics and advocates alike "want a sharp increase in financing for research to determine the relevant questions and begin rigorous assessments of nanotechnology's risks." Likewise the critics recognize the potential value of nanotechnology, "We recognize that nanotechnology's potential for being useful is phenomenal," the executive director of ETC is quoted as saying. Further, not all environmentalists are calling for a moratorium. "Douglas Mulhall, author of the recently published Our Molecular Future (Prometheus Books) [said], 'A moratorium isn't going to happen, so it's the wrong thing for environmentalists to focus on.'"

Brian Wang writes "Nanotechnology is becoming a new organizing focus for groups like the Science and Environmental Health Network, a World Wide Web-centered research center for environmental and public health groups. The network is a leading proponent of the go-slower approach to new technology, sometimes known as the precautionary principle. The principle has become a potent force in European regulation in recent years and is frequently discussed, if less adhered to, among regulators in the United States. One notable addition to the go-slow bandwagon is the ETC Group (so named for Eco-Equity Erosion, Technology Transformation and Corporate Control), based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In the 1990's, under its previous name – the Rural Advancement Foundation International – the group became a well-known opponent of agricultural biotechnology, pasting the science-fiction label 'Terminator Technology' on research supported by Monsanto, the Agriculture Department and several other companies interested in genetically engineering plants that would be incapable of producing fertile seeds. Both want a sharp increase in financing for research to determine the relevant questions and begin rigorous assessments of nanotechnology's risks. And both say there is enough time to create a dialogue and consensus that could prevent the kind of confrontations that have plagued biotechnology. 'We recognize that nanotechnology's potential for being useful is phenomenal,' Mr. Mooney said."

"But the addition of groups like ETC to the nanotechnology debate brings in experienced skeptics of industry's motives and strong backers of increased government regulation. The questions about risk management are becoming much more specific and, as the science-fiction aspect of the debate recedes, pressure is mounting for regulators to step in."

"Mr. Mooney's group recently began homing in on the dearth of published research about how nanoparticles interact with living cells. That issue is already on the radar of scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, which in March invited experts at Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Technology to brief them on such issues."

"ETC asserts that research suggests that the characteristics that make carbon nanotubes and similar nanoscale particles attractive candidates for carrying drugs into the brain could also allow such particles to transport toxins. It quotes Dr. Mark Weisner, a Rice professor, as warning that nanotubes, because of their needle-like shape, could become "the next asbestos." ETC also worries about a lack of research into how nanoparticles absorbed by bacteria might enter the food chain."

"ETC's critics say the group has taken the concerns of Dr. Weisner and others out of context."

Patrick Underwood writes "The usual suspects are shifting their fears from biotech to nanotech: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/19/technology/19NEC O.html"

Zarathustra2101 writes "Today's online edition of the New York Times contains a preview of the next big thing in Luddism. Unimaginatively titled, Opposition to Nanotechnology , the article declares: 'For the first time, nanotechnology is encountering the kind of real-world headwinds that have impeded biotechnology,' and goes on to explain the 'Precautionary Principle' and describe the activities of various activist groups. According to one, 'We've had a file on [nanotechnology] since 1988, but it was on the back burner until we did a patent search two years ago. We were shocked at the number of patents, how fast it was accelerating and the range of big companies involved.' On the positive side, the article recognizes that nano advocates are virtually indistinguishable from the skeptics in their desire for risk assessment and constructive dialog."

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