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Innovation vs. the Precautionary Principle

Discussions of nanotechnology held in Europe usually invoke the Precautionary Principle, which comes in various forms from the reasonable to the extreme. Ron Bailey of Reason discusses the extreme form of this principle in Culture of Fear: Dealing with cultural panic attacks, based on a recent conference. Excerpts:

“At the AEI conference, University of Kent sociologist, Frank Furedi, summed up the danger of this loss of cultural nerve in a talk based on his new book Politics Of Fear: Beyond Left And Right. He identified five trends fueling the rise of risk aversion in Western cultures…”

“Despite these trends, Western countries still manage to innovate and take risks. Furedi acknowledges that in the physical world we still create all kinds of new technologies and are going ahead in a dramatic and positive fashion. He was advised to go to Silicon Valley to find real risk takers and he did find driven creative people working hard to create new technologies.” (Source:

Of course, Silicon Valley has no monopoly on innovation in nanotechnology, either in the U.S. or elsewhere, but we do have a critical mass of driven creative technologists. —Christine

2 Responses to “Innovation vs. the Precautionary Principle”

  1. Mike Treder, CRN Says:

    Here is CRN’s paper on the subject…

    Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nanotechnology

    ABSTRACT: The development of general-purpose molecular manufacturing through nanotechnology carries numerous risks, including the production of potentially unhealthy nanoparticles, the possible creation of tiny, destructive, self-replicating robots, and many others. The Precautionary Principle is often invoked when dealing with situations that might be hazardous; however, the label “Precautionary Principle” is attached to at least two different ideas, which must be analyzed separately. This paper discusses two forms of the Precautionary Principle, which we will call the “strict form” and the “active form”, and relates them to the purpose of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and to CRN’s policy recommendations.

  2. Nanotech & the Precautionary Principle: a personal statement Says:

    [...] gives me a more vehement view than some, perhaps, of to what extent we should apply the topic of Monday’s post — the Precautionary Principle — to nanotechnology. The strong version of the Precautionary [...]

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