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