If You Don’t Understand a Technology Don’t Lobby Against It!

Euractiv reports that Robert Madelin, director-general at the European Commission’s health and consumer affairs directorate “has hit out at lobby groups who stoke fear of nanotechnology” and said it was “irresponsible” to use panic in order to attract attention.

It is an interesting step forward, as anti nano lobby groups in Brussels have been very vocal in calling for all manner of moratoria and bans, and have previously had a larger influence on the debate than scientists and toxicologists.

Here is a selection of the reported anti-nano viewpoints

Dr Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council, said she does not subscribe to the definition of nanotechnology which limits its scope to substances smaller than 100 nanometres.

Hmmm, let’s just chuck any definitions out of the window and see if that moves the debate along?

Caroline Cairns, programme leader for product safety at the Consumers Union in the US said there are lessons to be drawn for nanotechnology regulation from the financial services meltdown of 2008.

Referring to the complex financial products being sold by banks and insurers, Cairns said “if you don’t understand a product, don’t invest in it”.

You could also argue that if you don’t understand a technology don’t lobby against it!

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Comments 3

  1. Andrew Maynard

    Madelin’s comments (which were framed in the light of the recent election of two members of the BNP to the EP parliament) stressed the danger of using fear to fuel a debate – highlighting actions and comments by some of the more vocal and reactionary NGO’s. Friends of the Earth were singled out.

    To be fair, both NRDC (Jenn Sass) and Consumers Union (Caroline Cairns) have tended to stick to the science in the debate, and that was apparent in the meeting. Their comments were provocative admittedly, but not inflammatory.

    But Robert Madelin’s point was very well taken. Abuse of science to stir fear in the name of pushing a political agenda is anathema to informed decision-making, and should be called out and held to account. It’s morally questionable. And as Madelin eloquently laid it out, it is largely uncontrollable. Fear doesn’t engender discernment or considered decisions – it triggers ancient responses evolved to ensure survival at any cost.

    Not the best way of ushering the latest technologies perhaps.

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      Author
      Tim

      Unfortunately scaremongering has become an established technique for getting attention, and whatever the subject, the low level of scientific knowledge of those in charge of regulation means that the tactic works.

      As the world becomes ever more science based, any evidence that an effect is real or imagined seems to become ever more abstract to most people and so it comes down to shouting matches. This is something NGOs understand, but there are few mainstream scientists who can communicate as effectively – or indeed have a job that requires them to do so.

  2. Ruth Seeley

    There’s also what I’d refer to as ‘imaginative calcification’ that goes on in the minds of the public when the same lies are repeated loudly and ad nauseam. When I worked for a nuclear power plant a video producer insisted on meeting with me to show me his company’s stuff. Among his ‘reels’ was a public education film on nuclear energy that began with a green hulk rising out of the slime on a beach, disturbing a young couple who’d gone parking there. He (and his client) thought they were confronting stereotypes head on; nothing will ever convince me they weren’t reinforcing them.

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