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The Politics of Small Things: nanotechnology, risk and democracy?

James Wilsdon
Demos
Email: james.wilsdon@demos.co.uk| 

Date: 26 April 2005
Time
: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Venue
: CARR Seminar Room, H615

Abstract

For their proponents, nanotechnologies offer so much - unlimited energy, targeted pharmaceuticals, intelligent materials and self-organising molecular machines. Bottom-up or top-down, the promises of nano are revolutionary.

Yet in both the US and Europe, debates about the potential risks of nanotech, with their origins in dystopian fears of 'grey goo', have rapidly taken on a sharper focus around issues of nanoparticle toxicity and the need for tighter regulation. Allied to this are concerns about the lack of accountability and public scrutiny of key research trajectories within nanoscience.

Nanotech may be a new field, but already it is bristling with tensions and uncertainties. Will it inevitably become 'the next GM'? Can new forms of public engagement take place 'upstream', at an early stage in R&D processes? How can we strengthen the reflective capacity of nanoscientists to address social, ethical and political questions?

James Wilsdon is Head of Strategy at Demos and co-author of 'See-through Science: why public engagement needs to move upstream' (Demos 2004).

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