Sep 27, 2005
NanoJury gives its verdict
The UK's NanoJury has announced its recommendations for the future of nanotechnology. The 16-strong group of members of the public has called for "greater public say and increased clarity, as well as more emphasis on health, equity and environmental protection".
The NanoJury spent five weeks listening to a selection of expert witnesses from both sides of the nanotechnology debate before deliberating its verdict. Witnesses included Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, Tony Ryan and Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield, Charles Medawar of Social Audit, David Bott, an advisor to the UK government Department of Trade and Industry, Grace Maiso William of the Uganda Community ICT project and Beatrice Leigh, formerly of Glaxo SmithKline Beecham. Witnesses spoke for around 15 minutes and were awarded a "red card" by the jury if they used technical jargon.
The debate focused on three aspects of nanotechnology - health, energy and information and communication technologies - in order to "streamline the process".
The jury made twenty recommendations, ten of which received support from the majority of jury members. These included the proposal that manufactured particles should be tested as if they were a new substance; that public money spent on nanotechnology should be aimed at solving longer-term issues such as health and environmental problems; that there should be more openness about the spending of public research money on nanotechnology; that new safe and effective nanomedicines should be available without discrimination; and that the government should create grants for the development of solar-energy technologies. The jury also supported nanotechnologies that would bring jobs to the UK and proposed that there should be more consultation and information in plain English.
However, before moving on to nanotechnology, the jury discussed a topic of their choice - youth crime. In fact, the organizers did not tell prospective jurors that the project would cover nanotechnology for fear that they would not sign up. And this did seem to be the case - several of the jurors dropped out when they found that they would be debating nanotechnology.
"When people first said to us 'nano' it meant nothing," said one of the jurors. "When we had the chance to question the witnesses, they unveiled things for us. We're much better informed now." Another juror agreed, adding, "We became more aware of what technology could do - the more we got to know, the more interested we were."
According to Tom Wakeford of the Policy, Ethics and Life-Sciences Research Centre (PEALS) at the University of Newcastle, the jurors "got a grip on the complexities and uncertainties of nanotechnology to an extent that will surprise those who are sceptical about the value of public engagement".
Adrian Butt of the Department of Trade and Industry said that he would pass the jury's recommendations on to the UK government's Nanotechnology Issues Dialogue Group, which he chairs. The group will respond "in the short-term, where it can".
NanoJury was sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Nanotechnology at the University of Cambridge, Greenpeace UK, the Guardian newspaper and the University of Newcastle's PEALS. A team from the University of East Anglia analyzed the process.
About the author
Liz Kalaugher is editor of nanotechweb.org.