Why Government Nanotechnology Policy is Ineffective

We Do Not Know This Biscuit Of Which You Speak

Browsing through various Twitter feeds this morning a couple of seemingly unrelated items caught my attention. The first was that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was unable or unwilling to name his favourite biscuit, despite the questions being posed twelve times, thus exposing himself to understandable ridicule. His handlers later clarified the situation once they had seen this mornings front pages, claiming that he had “missed the question”, twelve times in all, and is partial to “anything with a bit of chocolate” but is “trying very hard to cut down.”

It still beggars belief that the person running the country is either so terrified up upsetting anyone that he would refuse to name a biscuit, or perhaps doesn’t know anything about biscuits. There’s a definite whiff of “It Came From Outer Space” here, and despite “monitoring radio transmissions from your planet for many years, we know not of this biscuit of which you speak.”

The second items was a new FAQ (frequently asked questions) about nanotechnology from the European Commission which alleges that by 2014, 10% of all manufacturing jobs worldwide will be related to nanotechnology. Hmmm, I wonder of the Chinese garment industry knows about that?

What these two snippets reveal is that when it comes to Government decision making there is something badly wrong. For the European Commission to be spending over a billion euros a year on nanotechnology based on a few five year old report summaries and press releases that it scraped from the web is quite staggering, although admittedly some of the recent credit crunch was created by bankers doing similarly sloppy due diligence into things they didn’t understand. Similarly, for questions about biscuits to be deflected until a pool of advisers and focus groups can cook up an answer calculated to appeal to the most voters raises huge questions over the competence of people in charge of the budgets.

To some extent it confirms what many people have suspected all along. While government funding of nanotechnology at an academic level is very welcome, the diffusion of technologies into the economy is usually despite government decisions rather than as a result of them .

PS I’m quite partial to Garibaldis (or squashed fly biscuits as we used to call them), but as I’ll be in Amsterdam again soon I may temporarily switch my allegiance to pepernoten.

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