Nanotechnologies: Where should they take us? Have your say

Should we apply the precautionary principle to nano innovations?

Opinion

Should we apply the precautionary principle to nano innovations?

Fri, 26 Jul 2013
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Most people probably think that the principles underpinning regulation of nanotechnologies should be to keep people safe, while allowing them to benefit from innovations.

We should treat them pretty much like any other technology, in other words. But there is a rich debate about exactly how those two principles can be made to work together. One of its most contentious points has been whether new things should be treated using a precautionary approach, or even – the alliteration makes it memorable in English – the precautionary principle.

There’s a big literature on what this means, and whether it should be incorporated in policy. And some of the arguments just had an unusually thorough airing in public, in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. They ran a week-long series of blog posts chewing over what the precautionary principle might mean, whether it is a good thing, and how it could operate. There’s too much there to summarise – indeed there’s a whole post up there trying to draw out the main points, which is probably the best place to begin if you want to sample the debate - although the problem of managing uncertainty, and how that differs from risk, came up repeatedly.

One comment that caught our eye, though, came from Andrew Maynard, whose own blog posts on risk and technology feature now and again in the nanopinion tweetstream. As Alice Bell says in that final post, he argued that “there are often three conversations going on in debates over precaution… There are the "slow down if there are danger signs" conversations, then there are those which discuss the use of the precautionary principle for political ends and finally there is a third type of debate which is typified by anti-technology rhetoric. He argued that often people don't realise which conversation they are a part of, including the long arguments on this which have gone before (including even bothering to check what the precautionary principle is).

Does this apply to debate about nanotechnologies in Europe? Discuss…

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  • nanopinion is an EC-funded project bringing together 17 partners from 11 countries with the aim of monitoring public opinion on what we hope from innovation with nanotechnologies. The project is aimed citizens with a special focus on hard-to-reach target groups, which are people who do not normally encounter and give their opinion nanotechnologies at first hand.
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