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Nanotechnology medicine policy report disputed

The ETC Group has a new 63-page PDF report out titled “Nanotech Rx — Medical Applications of Nano-scale Technologies: What Impact on Marginalized Communities?” Although we at Foresight share ETC’s concern for these communities, we disagree with the report. A couple of excerpts:

Can OECD donors who have failed to deliver promised mosquito netting to malaria-stricken countries and who have managed to
provide only one condom per adult male per annum to combat HIV/AIDS in the global South really claim that hefty investment in new nanomedicines will pay off for poor countries?

Certainly it would be a good thing to deliver promised netting and condoms. However, both malaria and HIV are fundamentally nanoscale problems, and developing nanotech vaccines against these would be a very good thing indeed. Netting and condoms are macroscale attempts to solve nanoscale problems, and both depend on repeated use. Moreover, surely Pat Mooney (head of ETC and father of five) is aware that many men don’t like to use condoms, or so I’m told. I’ve seen it claimed, in articles on AIDS in Africa, that some men refuse to use condoms at all. Maybe we need a better solution. Why not a nanomedical one?

The report argues against a “medical model” of health:

In the medical model, the possible “cures” for a paraplegic who is a victim of discrimination and social injustice would be some kind of medical intervention – bionic legs instead of accessible buildings, for example.

Most of us know people who are disabled and have trouble getting around; I share a home with such a person. Even if we made every single building on the planet accessible, this wouldn’t solve the problem; these folks would also like to go to the beach and climb hills, maybe even mountains. What is so wrong with developing bionic legs for people who want to use them? I know that disability rights advocate Gregor Wolbring disagrees with me on this, but as far as I’m concerned, the views of my housemate carry just as much weight as his. (It might be fun to ask them to debate. The politically-correct community would be confused: he’s a white male opposing nanomedicine, she’s an African-American female in favor.)

I admire Pat’s caring, sincerity, energy, and his PR skills — I think it was Pat who named one of Monsanto’s patents as Terminator Technology, a label they weren’t able to shake. And while we share some interest areas — specifically concerns about possible flaws in the laws on intellectual property and corporate governance — we at Foresight must strongly disagree with ETC’s opposition to nanomedicine.

Yes, early nanomedical treatments are likely to be expensive, as are practically all new technologies. But the costs will come down over time. Think of the early adopters as guinea pigs testing the new methods and helping bring down the costs for others.

You may be wondering, who paid to produce this report? Funders of the Canada-based ETC Group are said to include the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, and Funders Working Group on the New Technologies. Are they reading what they’re funding? —Christine

5 Responses to “Nanotechnology medicine policy report disputed”

  1. ERabani Says:

    re disabilities:

    There are two disjunct issues here:

    Respecting people despite accidents of fate or chance which locally constrain their spectrum of abilites, distinguished from providing means for extending capabilities as to compensate for such constraints. The former is intrinsically social-psychological; the latter is material (biomechanical or biotechnological or technological.)

    At the rock bottom foundation of the former is the counter of the unfortunately widespread paradigm of looking down on a category people for some stated reason. So the fundamental issue is the motivation or disposition of looking down upon or disrespecting people.

    There is no technology which operates in the physical universe to do this or to prevent it (the question of neural-AI-nanotechnology ‘programmed’ to combat prejudice would be another discussion/can of worms.)

    re estimations:

    It seems the reader of the quote is inveighed to judge the truth value of any assertion that mnt is a feasible technology on whether some particular organization of donors has met two unrelated global-scale objectives. This is both an ad hominem-type fallacy and an epistemological fallacy concerning the best mode of feasibility assessment.

    Obviously the group has some good motivations. But it seems there’s also an antitechnological prejudice underlying these comments if the tone of Christine’s post is a fair reflection. If their principal objective is something wider than opposing every technology on every front, I’d hope that the ETC Group endeavors to hone its efforts and analyses, and would do so in a self-critical way by considering these points. It would seem to me that that’s the best way to advance their cause beyond the mere activity of counterpoint.

  2. Nanodot: Nanotechnology News and Discussion » Blog Archive » Think twice before labeling nanotechnology products Says:

    [...] The ETC Group, recently mentioned here for its PR skills, has announced a contest to design a Nano-Hazard symbol for nanotechnology: Standard setting bodies around the world are now scrambling to agree on nomenclature that can describe nanoparticles and nanomaterials. A common, internationally-recognized symbol warning of the presence of engineered nanomaterials is equally overdue. [...]

  3. Tara Sadler Says:

    I am a 38 year old married mother of two and I became disabled in an accident and have paralysis on my right side and cannot function without a cane for limited movement and a power chair for total movement and I think bionic legs and any other technology that would help me be mobile again is more than welcomed! I would love to have my leg and arm fixed with bionics or something even if that ment having artificial limbs.

  4. In The Works » Blog Archive » nNews: Decontaminating Ground Water Says:

    [...] Tratnyek did an fine job of presenting this interesting field of nanotechnology research, and also tied it into the wider concerns about nanotechnology and the regulations that are, or are not, being imposed. In his presentation, he discussed the difference between nanoparticles in substrates and those that are free range, along with the environmental concerns of both. He also presented some interesting–though limited–tidbits of information about the public’s perception of nanotechnology. As examples of things that are influencing public opinion, he brought up Michael Critchen’s Prey, a fun read but scientifically unreal book in which things are turned to “grey goo” by nanomachines. Tratnyek also brought up ETC’s nanotech hazard symbol contest, an example of a group that advocates some of the more extreme reactions nanotechnology evokes (a response to their statements can be found over at the Foresight Nanotech Institute). Nanotechnology has certainly been co-opted by some to be a breading ground for conspiracies and outlandish statements–by both those in favor and against it. [...]

  5. Says:

    Thanks for the informative post.. :)

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