Foresight Nanotech Institute Logo
Image of nano

French citizen panel: Nanotechnology is too technical

EurActiv.com reports on a citizens’ panel on nanotechnology held by the Ile de France region:

Citizens find nanotechs ‘elitist’

A citizens’ conference on nanotechnologies in France found public information on nanosciences difficult to access for non-specialists.

The report itself (PDF) is in French, but an Altavista automatic translation gives English speakers some limited access:

Efforts are necessary to be able to take part in the debate.

Yes! Efforts are indeed necessary to take part in a useful way in the nanotechnology debate, and such efforts include those directed at actually learning something about nanotechnologies — which are…technical.

The panel admits that, despite their complaints of a lack of information accessible to the layperson, once they started paying more attention, there it was right in front of them:

Since we were informed [by the citizen's panel], we became aware of our role as citizens. We [now] have an interest for the subject which woke up our curiosity, are more sensitized and notice more frequently the articles in the newspapers and magazines.

To be fair to the French, it should be mentioned that the report includes some good parts as well:

We are nevertheless aware well that the excess of evaluation and a too broad application of the principle of precaution could lead to a deceleration of research, a weakening of our position, in particular economic, in the international competition…

Our group is declared mainly favorable to the nanotechnologies, and this for a plurality of reasons. The nanotechnologies unquestionably represent a progress and even a hope for the world of today and tomorrow that it is in the fields of health, the everyday life, our environment and our framework of life. These nanotechnologies also constitute a hope in order to improve the assistance with the countries in the process of development. Moreover, these nanotechnologies are impossible to circumvent from an economic point of view. Their development represents a stake in terms of creations of richnesses and employment.

To continue being fair to the French, it should be emphasized that plenty of people in other countries, certainly including the U.S., claim to want to have influence on how nanotech plays out, without being willing to do the hard work needed to understand what they are talking about. The particular French citizens on this panel do seem to have put some time into the effort, once the panel process began.

Use the following link to view the full Altavista automatic translation of the report. –Christine

http://espaceprojets.iledefrance.fr/jahia/webdav/site/projets/users/sobellanger/public/avis%20et%20recommandations%20citoyens.pdf

Opinions and recommendations of the panel of citizens

Page 1 of 8
INTRODUCTION We, citizens men and women of Island-of-France, with our differences, our characteristics and our diversity, discussed stakes related to the development of the nanotechnologies. We address our opinions and recommendations to the elected officials of the regional Council. Vis-a-vis in the world of the nanotechnologies, we test much curiosity but also have many interrogations. The nanotechnologies represent a world made of complexity that it is difficult to include/understand, adapt itself and face to which the access to information proves to be a challenge. The complexity of the nanomonde pushes us with the following reflexions: This complexity causes concern. Initially because the risk exists that the people who have the knowledge decide for us without us to hold informed; that represents a danger to the democracy. In addition, because of the lack of knowledge of the citizens on the development of the nanotechnologies, it is legitimate to fear skids. It seems to us that, in this complex universe, the difficulty of adapting the problems, of including/understanding them and of making decisions implies to give itself time to get information. Efforts are necessary to be able to take part in the debate. I. The reports by fields 1. Evaluation of the risks There is in our eyes today a manifest lack as regards evaluation of the risks related to the nanotechnologies. This deficiency is initially explained by the fact why the use of the nanotechnologies is recent and that one does not have tools necessary to an efficient evaluation. Some within our group wonder whether there is not also a will deliberated on behalf of a whole series on actors (of the scientists, industrialists, policies) not to carry out this evaluation or when it takes place, to dissimulate its results. This absence of evaluation or knowledge of general public on the risks leaves the door open to all the presumptions, all concerns. Those grow rich by fears related to the experiments passed like asbestos, the nuclear power… We are nevertheless aware well that the excess of evaluation and a too broad application of the principle of precaution could lead to a deceleration of research, a weakening of our position, in particular economic, in the international competition.

Page 2 of 8
We think that risks can be taken in certain fields like health or medicine but not in others. The whole of the speakers and experts whom we met recommended an increase in the appropriations and investments intended for the evaluation of the risks related to the use of the nanotechnologies. 2. Ethics For us, ethics is to act with the respect human being and of the environment. We consider that it is a paramount parapet which must prevent the drifts and which is vital for our survival. Ethics poses the problem of the report/ratio of the individual to the collective. We do not have all within the group the same comprehension of ethics while being fully aware of its need. We note that ethics is present in the speeches of all the speakers whom we met (in a marked or subjacent way). It seems that the responsibility for the various actors, including that of the citizen-consumers, is in the heart of ethics. 3. Information and communication information on the nanotechnologies √©litiste and is reserved to specialists (complex articles in difficult magazines of access). General public is badly informed. Why? – innovation of the subject – unsuited information – absence of sensitizing and fears to get information – disinterest… Us same, planes very few knowledge on the subject before beginning our formation within the framework of the conference of citizens. Since we were informed, we became aware of our role as citizens. We have an interest for the subject which woke up our curiosity, are more sensitized and notice more frequently the articles in the newspapers and magazines. Knowledge on the subject is thus capital to be implied there.

Page 3 of 8
4. Legislation and regulations We note that there is not any regulation specific to the nanotechnologies. They return within the framework of the regulations on the other products (chemical, drugs, etc). For example, the nanotechnologies were not introduced into directive REACH, in spite of the insistence of associations. It seems that the authorities are not very laid out to legislate on the subject for the moment. This absence of regulation seems to us to allow drifts and thus an increase in the risks by the marketing of potentially dangerous products. There are an absence of responsibility and thus an impossibility of recourse for the consumer in the event of damage. II. The sectors of application 1. Medicine and Health It is the sector in which there are the most rules, that in which the risks are framed best, and this on all the levels: control raw materials, handling of the products, experimentation and marketing authorization of the drugs… It is also the field which communicates best by a broad diffusion of information in direction of the public. This information concerns discoveries and therapies in the invalidating diseases or mortals (examples: STI, cancers, etc). It is finally the sector where the responsibility for the experts is engaged, from where the possibility of recourse for the victims. In the field of medicine and health, the nanotechnologies are carrying hope (diagnosis and trackings, implants, biochips, etc). In addition, the prevention of the professional diseases profits also today from advanced from the nanotechnologies (patchs, sensors, filters, detectors). But these projections induce also risks and potential drifts like the increase in the physical and intellectual performances, the genetic engineering or the psychological control of the people.

Page 4 of 8
2. Military aspects: The armament knows a sensitive projection thanks to the use of the nanotechnologies in all the fields (aeronautics, space, naval and terrestrial). Program FELIN, first French military program of equipment as regards nanotechnologies, have as a finality to make the soldier most powerful possible. The secrecy defense remains in force in this field, from where the difficulty in obtaining information. The military application of this progress however has repercussions in the civil one (example: GPS, mobile telephony…). 3. Information and communication: We were sensitive to the speech of the CNIL and its standpoint acting of the nanotechnologies. Those allow a technical progress in the individual information storage (thanks to chips RFID), like their diffusion. The CNIL recommends the desactivation of these means of communication (ex: after purchase) to avoid the disclosure of these data. These new technologies do not require fundamental change of the law of 1978, but the multiplication of the data-processing data poses the problem of application of these rules and the means implemented. One notes a lack of regulation on the encoding of the chips and consequently a risk of hacking and/or escape of these data. 4. Environment We note that a considerable progress can be brought for water, the air and the ground. We could understand that in industries operating in the environmental field, the technical performances could be largely improved, and appreciably reduced costs of operation. In addition, one can estimate that thanks to these new technologies, it could be carried out an economy on the natural resources, and in parallel a signficant reduction of the consumption of energy (examples: depollution of water, air cleaning, waste processing). However risks exist as for the use of the nanotechnologies on the environment: contamination of the food chain, problem of the waste recycling “nanos”, as well as the pollution of the ground water. To date, we note that there is no response concerning the risks of dissemination of the nanos-particles on the ecosystem and in the environment in general.

Page 5 of 8
5. Economy Of the colossal sums are concerned. Certain countries are clearly implied in the development of the nanotechnologies and one notes that France is not in the group of head. The granting of subsidies by the regional Council of Island-of-France is not obligatorily fixed with the creation of jobs. No official study was carried out on the creation of jobs and of companies within the area but we note his will to imply ourselves in the assistance with research and the formation. We did not have a precise response concerning the fall of the production costs related to the nanotechnologies. In the field of the micro-electronics, the use of the nanos is already effective. (STMicroelectronics indicates to us that 80% of its products contain nanostructurés components) Concerning the delocalizations, it proves that the centers of competences will remain in France but there is not any certainty as for the maintenance of the production.

Page 6 of 8
III The problems which we identify the participative democracy is regarded as essential and the policies wonder which will be the reactions of the citizens vis-a-vis to these questions; the Area seeks the approval of the citizens, more especially as the development of the nanotechnologies relates to them. From this point of view, the questions which arise to the regional Council and thus for us are as follows: – Considering the good position and the assets of the Area as well at the national level as European, which policy to adopt? – is it necessary to develop the nanotechnologies (establishment of a pole of “nano development”)? – Which share of the budget devoted in the search and the creation of company the regional Council does it have to invest in the sector of the nanotechnologies? IV Our opinion Our group is declared mainly favorable to the nanotechnologies, and this for a plurality of reasons. The nanotechnologies unquestionably represent a progress and even a hope for the world of today and tomorrow that it is in the fields of health, the everyday life, our environment and our framework of life. These nanotechnologies also constitute a hope in order to improve the assistance with the countries in the process of development. Moreover, these nanotechnologies are impossible to circumvent from an economic point of view. Their development represents a stake in terms of creations of richnesses and employment. However, we emit conditions: – We do not want a company “Big Brother”. – It would be unacceptable that the economic profit related to the nanotechnologies is made with the detriment ethics. – We wish the establishment of rules framing the development of the nanotechnologies because the nano-particles are potentially dangerous, because the risks on the environment and the life are real… We feel responsible for our planet and our framework of life. That implies the obligation of the respect of the environment and the ecosystem.

Page 7 of 8
V Our recommendations – Each industrialist must be morally responsible for the ecological and medical risks incurred by the development of the nanotechnologies. – We ask for the installation of measurements intended for the industrialists of the Ile area of France: to take precautions, to set up a protocol of handling of the products containing of the structures on a nano scale. The Area will work out a charter of transparency which they will have to apply: labelling, evaluation of the risks, etc. – the report is that nanoproduits already integrated the market in spite of the lack of research on their dangerosity. The medical and environmental legislation current is not adapted to the use of materials on “the nano scale”. Taking into consideration this absence, it appears essential to respect the principle of precaution. – a precise and clear labelling must be affixed on the products resulting from the nanotechnologies in order to inform the consumers. – Concerning the communication on these nanotechnologies, we wish a very broad diffusion in a language accessible to all, and on all supports (press, radio, TV, Internet…). – In addition, we wish a development of the budgetary means allocated with the CNIL. We await the installation of publicity campaigns on the respect of the personal freedoms on the scale of the European Union. – We recommend a partnership with principal associations of consumers recognized, who will be used as relay with the citizens. – We wish the reinforcement of research, key element to explore the stakes of infinitely small. This research will have to be directed towards real scientific objectives; indeed the nanoparticules do not answer the traditional physical laws any more and require a discipline and very specific tools for exploration. In conclusion, to represent the interests of the citizens, we wish the creation of an independent authority made up of: – political personalities – scientists – philosophers – members of ethics committees – representative citizens (members of recognized associations)

Page 8 of 8
This authority will have the roles of…: – to take care of the respect of ethics; – to supervise research of the laboratories; – to deliver an opinion on the continuation of this research; – to check correct use of the funds invested by the Area; – to make a nomenclature of the potentially dangerous products; – to establish a traceability of the nanoparticules of the production to the destruction or recycling; – to communicate the result of its work and its conclusions to the citizens. -… In order to conclude its missions, this authority will be equipped by the regional Council with financial means necessary. Lastly, we wish that our group be informed of the use which will be made of its recommendations.

2 Responses to “French citizen panel: Nanotechnology is too technical”

  1. John Says:

    So people want things handed to them on a silver platter and not have to work at it. What else is news?
    People have to do the research themselves and not depend on others no matter where they live, including France.

  2. >How do you say "Duh!" in French? | LifeEthics Says:

    [...] Nanodot reports on a citizen conference consensus paper which concludes that understanding nanotechnology and evaluating the ethics of research on constructs and machines built on the molecular leve requires effort and may be too hard. [...]

Leave a Reply