The public enagement bug has spread to France, with a recent Citizen’s conference on nanosciences and nanotechnologies.
We have commented before about the value of these exercises. While it is good to engage ‘citizens’ in debates about technologies that may affect their future, it is hard to make rational decisions based on facts if those facts are not well understood. We have already been through this with organic produce, which far from significantly improving anyone’s health simply allows supermarkets to charge 50% more for essentially the same product and ancreasing numbers of manufacturers are attracted by the fat margins.
The French study put its finger on the core of the paradox, that people want to make the right decision but don’t have the right information or ability to do so, with the finding that “current information on the issue is elitist and reserved to specialists.” Oner has to wonder whether that also applies to the whole of science and technology – is anything that requires a PhD elitist and should we follow the example of Pol Pot and remove all intellectuals?
But seriously, society and business functions as an interlinked collection of individual specialists, and a nanoscientist is no more elitist that a garage mechanic. So while public consultation is a great idea, in the end you need a scientific elite to make the scientific decisions, a bureaucratic elite to implement them and a financial elite to fund them.
The panels’ final conclusions seem to recognise this, and were no different to those of any other public engagement exercise, that they were more or less in favour of nanotechnologies, provided that suitable controls were in place (not disregarding ethics in favour of profits, environmental controls etc.) and that the regional and national government should make sure that they get a decent slice of any economic benefits.
So, not much new, but we couldn’t resist following the lead of Euractive and popping a sensationalist headline on this.