Monday, February 13, 2006

Nano can't learn from GMO experiences?

Drawing analogies between the social dynamics surrounding GMOs and nanotechnology is not only misleading but could also be dysfunctional for developing successful mechanisms for public engagement in the area of nanotechnology. Or at least that's what Ronald Sandler and W. D. Kay argue in their paper The GMO-Nanotech (Dis)Analogy? which was just published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society.

And the argument makes some intuitive sense. There are obvious differences with respect to how the two issues have emerged on the public arena and to the different ethical and legal implications of the two technologies. What may be somewhat simplistic, however, is the suggestion that comparisons between nano and GMOs automatically promote the idea "that securing public acceptance of emerging technologies should be the focus and orient the agendas of SEI research and public engagement" (p. 61). In fact, many public communication efforts--especially by academics--are explicitly aimed at providing the public with a balanced and understandable overview of the risks and benefits of new technologies that also takes into account the concerns and predispositions of audiences. Even with all this information on the table, of course, citizens may still reject new technologies. But at least they are less likely to do it for the wrong reasons.