It’s always odd how nanotechnology gets blamed for a lot of the world’s ills
A common accusation is that nanotech will lead to a loss of privacy, although this is surely more due to the proliferation of databases and processing power to enable facial or car number plate recognition. It is ironic that some of the most vocal protesters use Facebook & Twitter.
Chemistry World has been reporting on the protests at French nanotechnology debates, which seem to have degenerated into attempts to disrupt any public engagement. Perhaps they are mindful of the UK engagement exercises, which usually ended up with the general public being generally in favour of nanotechnology, or perhaps just carrying on an old French tradition of angry mobs of peasants/farmers/students smashing things up. But it raises wider questions about the understanding of the consequences of technology, both good and bad.
GMO’s are a case in point, and a perfect example of how, despite having the technology to address some of the worlds major problems with food production and nutrition, the fear of someone making any money out of just one aspect of the technology has condemned millions to a rather more dismal existence then they may have had. While opposition to GMOs has been softening of late, many other emerging technologies from geoengineering to synthetic biology are facing similar hype driven backlashes.
The nightmare scenario is that we have the ability to address, solve or mitigate a major problem, but that a decision has already been made not to use that technology. Synthetic biology may, for instance, be able to provide some shortcuts to the production of sustainable fuels and vaccines for H1N1 and other flu variants, but what if it winds up like GMOs and is unable to be used?
Can anything be done about it? Perhaps. Information and education are the key. Pitchfork wielding mobs descending on universities, or its modern French equivalent doesn’t get us very far, and as usual it comes down to information , as Mark Twain noted in 1869
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
The same is true for most single issue groups, whether anti capitalist, environmental or even pro business!
All technologies have pros and cons, but the trick is to manage them in such a way that you encourage the positive aspects while keeping tight rein over any potential downside. There is nothing new here, we have been doing it with drugs for decades.