This year saw in March the publication by the previous govt of a nanotech strategy for 2010-2014 published in March which was widely criticized on a number of grounds – one of the features of it which drew fire was how it covered the topic of public engagement. As some commentators noted (see here quote from Richard Jones), it made a marked contrast with the foregoing efforts by govt to promote upstream dialogue. Indeed, there was practically no mention of engagement at all.What happened?
Various critics of the strategy noted that there also, in general, seemed to be a heavy emphasis on the governance of risk, that the potential negative outcomes of nanotechnological applications were receiving more attention than the potential benefits.The strategy uses the word risk/risks 60 times – approx 3 times as often as either benefits or opportunities The document no doubt concentrated on how best to do precautionary regulation in a position of ongoing data gaps, including uncertainty about toxicological effects and so on.But this was felt to have led to a failure to provide a strategic response to fundamental issues regarding the funding of nanotechnology innovation.Richard Jones remark – from the same blog post I just quoted – reflected these concerns nicely: that you need to ensure that innovation exists in the first place in order to be in a position where people can have something to talk and deliberate about. Upstream public engagement was clearly inspired by the American program which aimed at understanding the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) surrounding the Human Genome Project (National Human Genome Research Institute 2008). The British, however, brought in a participatory approach. This was based on three points of critique towards the American ELSI approach (cf. Wilsdon and Willis 2004; Macnaghten et al. 2005). First, the ELSI program was thought to be too expert-oriented (as Jasanoff also observes), and thus more diverse and plural forms of public knowledge should enter the debate on science. Second, ELSI research was “framed as being able to scrutinize only the impacts or effects of the technology rather than deeper social and political considerations” (Macnaghten et al. 2005, p. 6). It was argued that, besides the risk issue, more fundamental social issues around ownership, control and social ends, should be part of the debate. Third, advocates of upstream engagement also pointed at the lack of impact of ELSI research, and stressed that upstream activities should be linked back to the decision-making of scientists, industry, and policy makers.
it is necessary with major technologies to ensure that the debatetakes place at an early stage, as new areas emerge in the scientific and technological developmentprocess. This involves engaging with the public and understanding their aspirations and concernsaround science and new technologies.
What marks these reactions out is their ideological context: the unknown – what nanotechnology may become in the future – is interpreted against the backdrop of a set of ethical prejudgements regarding the inherent direction of technological societies as such.
Chris Groves_Is it all about risk learning the right lessons from gm for nanofoods
Is it all about risk?Learning the right lessonsfrom GM for nanofoodsDr Chris GrovesExternal AssociateBRASS, Cardiff University, UKgrovesc1@cf.ac.uk Image from Friends of the Earth
Nano-risk: a UK government view UK Nanotech Strategy stressed management of risks over support for benefits Must ensure the public is “informed and confident about nanotechnologies” (p. 2) “reassured that products on the market are safe for them to buy” (p. 9)
Who will put their „head over theparapet‟? Representative of a food industry body: “It is very difficult for them to say anything. If they dont say anything then people will think they are doing it anyway and if they say well we are not going to involve ourselves in this nanotechnology thing then I dont believe that. With all these benefits of course they are looking at it. [...]” “I have companies that do not want us to use the word nano, they are happy to join the focus group, they are happy to join in things, but they just say “take the word nano out, dont use it at all!”’ Source #6
Reducing the deficit Classic deficit model of Kearnes and Wynne science communication (2007)1: a model of Public is scientifically affective deficit ignorant Public has lost trust in science and technology Ignorance breeds fear of the unknown Information does not affect emotion must educate public must appeal directly …but is the public to emotion educable? (“confidence”, “enthusiasm”) 1. Kearnes, M. and B. Wynne (2007). "On nanotechnology and ambivalence: the politics of enthusiasm." Nanoethics 1: 131-142.
“We believe everyoneshould be a confidentconsumer of scienceand technology” (p.27)”
Reputational risk Contemporary salience of reputational risk Regulators need to be seen to be precautionary Businesses need to „keep their heads down‟ Frames „stakeholders as sources of threat to legitimacy‟ Organisations „may be over-responsive to public concerns‟
Theoretical support Cognitive science view of cognitive biases Public lacks understanding of risk and chance NGOs and/or governments and/or corporations and/or media may encourage overreaction to some risks
Lessons learnt from GM? A new deficit model The public is a risk (to reputation, to innovation) & deep irrationality is the root cause Organisations need to encourage positive affect, thus protecting reputations Governments: act to restore „confidence‟, „be seen to be precautionary‟ Companies: create exciting products and build markets on enthusiasm
Learning other lessons “ [...] we have learnt that it is necessary with major technologies to ensure that the debate takes place at an early stage, as new areas emerge in the scientific and technological development process. This involves engaging with the public and understanding their aspirations and concerns around science and new technologies.” UK Government (2005), Response to the RS/RAEng report, p. 3
So what worries “the public”?Four main areas of concern 1. naturalness: with respect to “Contrary to what scientists tend e.g. food uses. to worry about, public fears about technology risks are less about 2. access: will benefits be fairly risks directly attributable to a distributed? technology than the social and 3. trust: will any unanticipated regulatory context in which they are embedded.” risks be handled responsibly? Cobb, M. D. and Macoubrie, J. 2004. Who is responsible? Public perceptions about nanotechnology: 4. transparency: can experts be risks, benefits, and trust. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 6(4), pp. trusted to admit the limits of 395-405. their knowledge about potential hazards?
In a wider context... Two key conclusions from a broad range of research1 Awareness of nanotech remains low Nonetheless, attitudes generally positive or neutral across a range of countries (USA, UK, EU, Japan, Korea) Where nano-concerns exist, they are not primarily about health and environmental risk Instead, are rooted in social and political context (lack of trust in business, worries about transparency, etc.) 1 See e.g. Evidence from other technology Gaskell, G., Ten Eyck, T., Jackson, J. & Veltri, G. Imagining nanotechnology: Cultural controversies support for technological innovation in Europe and the United States. Public GM, nuclear power, BSE etc. (Brian Wynne, Understanding of Science 14, 81–90 (2005). Currall, S. C., King, E. B., Lane, N., Madera, Sheila Jasanoff) J. & Turner, S. What drives public acceptance of nanotechnology? Nature Nanotechnology. 1, 153–155 (2006).
Contrasting lessons, contrastingassumptions “Public as risk” “Participatory publics” Defensive Early/ongoing reputational risk deliberative management engagement Irrationality – only „knee- Individuals already engaged jerk‟ responses with technology – implicitly Isolated consumers deliberative Media as sole source of „Publics‟ not „public‟ info Draw on diverse sources of information
Brittle or resilient innovation? 13-member expert panel (industry associations, nanoscience, social sciences, NGOs, policymakers) Four scenarios for nanotech in the UK to 2020 Lack of public engagement seen as potential obstacle to innovation Nanofood identified as potential flashpoint
Extreme reactions? “Biotechnology, like nanotechnology, represents the ultimate stage in increasing the power to exercise a more total dominion [...] of man over nature, Il Silvestre animals and other humans – [...] the (Italy) attack on life will assume new proportions and open up unimaginable scenarios” Silvia Guerini, Il Silvestre, May 2006I n d i v i d u a l s Te n d i n g “The ever more rapid acceleration of thisTo w a r d s S a v a g e r y technology will lead to the creation of (Individualidades tendiendo a lo nano-cyborgs that can self-replicate salvaje, Mexico) automatically without the help of a human” Manifesto at http://liberaciontotal.lahaine.org/?p=3581
Thank you for your attention email@example.com://cardiff.academia.edu/ChristopherGroves