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Reducing bias in public participation in nanotech

Here at Foresight we’ve been doing “public participation” in nanotechnology since long before any national nanotech initiatives were started. So of course we are strongly in favor of nanoliteracy. The more the public understands nanotechnologies and the nanosciences on which they are based, the better, both for the economy and public policy.

So it may be surprising that we are uneasy with the developing area of public participation in nanotechnology, as described in a Nature Biotechnology piece titled Building nanoliteracy in the university and beyond (pdf). What is troubling is that there is very little recognition that those involved in the process tend to have views and agendas of their own — often strong ones — which are very likely to bias the result of the “public participation”.

It takes some kind of formal process to confront these biases and minimize them. It’s probably best to explicitly acknowledge the opposing viewpoints and let them duke it out openly. The best proposal we’ve seen for this is the fact forum or science court. —Christine

4 Responses to “Reducing bias in public participation in nanotech”

  1. George Elvin Says:

    The UK may be setting a good example here, as their Council for Science and Technology is soliciting public input for its review of the Government’s response to the Royal Society//Royal Academy of Engineering report, “Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties”.

    We’ll see how well the US can follow suit with the FDA’s public forum coming up this fall.

  2. yabbadabbado Says:

    Maybe if some institutions implemented fun hands-on displays at science museums across the country, it would make it less intimidating and more intriguing and fun.

    It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all. It’s a small world after all. It’s a small small wooorrrrld. =) (taken from the song at Walt Disney World’s boat ride called It’s a Small World After All)

  3. Nanodot: Nanotechnology News and Discussion » Blog Archive » Nanotechnology policy game for public shows bias Says:

    [...] Before such procedures will be useful for policymaking or effective public outreach, a lot of work is needed to make them more robust against bias. Maybe a more explicitly adversarial process (as mentioned previously) would be a more balanced way to do this. That’s how we do it when the issue is literally of life-and-death importance, e.g., a murder trial. [...]

  4. Martin G. Smith Says:

    Whole there are dangers inherent in all new technologies, whatever anyone might try to hide, will not stay hidden for long. I recall a Paul Sorvino line in the 1973 Movie ‘Day of the Dolphin’ – There are those who watch the people, and then those who watch the watchers’. [The Web being a marvelous place to watch the watchers, it just helped me to recall the facts].
    While I am far from advocating a Free For All, let us not restrict out of Bias and/or Fear.

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