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On the Relationship between Social Ethics and Nanotechnology Janne Nikkinen, Postdoctoral Researcher Nanoethics Asia 2009, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok,

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Presentation on theme: "On the Relationship between Social Ethics and Nanotechnology Janne Nikkinen, Postdoctoral Researcher Nanoethics Asia 2009, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok,"— Presentation transcript:

1 On the Relationship between Social Ethics and Nanotechnology Janne Nikkinen, Postdoctoral Researcher Nanoethics Asia 2009, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand Department of Systematic Theology

2 Outline Context of discussion: Technology assessment (TA) Interests of NT actors Ideological notions in the NT debate Some concluding remarks

3 Background Postdoctoral research project “Global nanoethics – local applications” from 2008 onwards Comparison of ideological factors in the key documents of nanotechnology in the U.S., EU and Asia (Thailand?) Three case studies with examples from specific NBIC- technologies

4 Introduction Nanoethics – something special (Schummer 2006)? ”[…] development, study, practice, and enforcement of a set of culturally accepted beliefs, mores, guidelines, standards, regulations, and even laws for governing rapidly advancing nanotechnologies across multiple economic sectors” Nanoethics as a part of a whole (Baumgartner 2008): ”[…] thorough and comprehensive investigation of the ethical aspects of nanotechnology obviously requires the integration of different perspectives such as social ethics…but also perspectives not explicitly ethical at first glance”

5 TA process in NT: Technology itself Reasons for assessment Symbolic value Normative characteristics Desirability of its effects Unintended consequences Alternatives (adapted from Jose M. Cozar-Escalante, unpublished, cf. Lehoux & William-Jones 2007)

6 TA: Stakeholders Direct and indirect beneficiaries vs. potential victims Financial and other interests Professional prestige Researcher’s interests Power relations among stakeholders (adapted from Jose M. Cozar-Escalante, unpublished, cf. Lehoux & William-Jones 2007)

7 TA in NT: Assessment methods Choice of end points Selection of studies Representativeness of users Level of generalization and research ethics TA’s producers’s interests Moral consequences of the TA (adapted from Jose M. Cozar-Escalante, unpublished, cf. Lehoux & William-Jones 2007)

8 Decision-making (resource implications related to nanotechnology’s dissemination) Distribution and access to services and products developed by means of NT Moral obligation to implement a technology Social justice, fairness, equity, legitimacy, entitlement Impact on other parts of society, reaction of public and public accountability (adapted from Jose M. Cozar-Escalante, unpublished, cf. Lehoux & William-Jones 2007)

9 TA in NT: Broader societal issues Impact on human integrity and dignity Challenge with social values and arrangements Conflict with convictions Religious Social Cultural Contradiction with legal arrangements (adapted from Jose M. Cozar-Escalante, unpublished, cf. Lehoux & William-Jones 2007)

10 Conflict of interest in environmental technology: Pesticide studies Independent Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) studied health and safety research provided by American pesticide producers All studies conducted by humans were scientifically ”invalid” Small sample sizes, from 7 to 50 subjects (when at least 2500 from each and every group would have been needed) (Schreder-Frechette 2007)

11 Pesticide studies and their lesson to NT According to Kerstin Schreder-Frechette (2007), the pesticide studies were ”[…] predetermined to generate false-negative conclusions, false conclusions that the pesticides were not harmful […] ”Because virtually all nanotechnology research is done by those who expect to profit from it, mostly chemical companies, there are few ground for believing that this research, done with a clear conflict of interest, is likely to produce results that are any more reliable than the pesticide studies evaluated by the EPA Science Advisory Board [...]”

12 Ideological content in NT debate In NT debate, there are a number of assumptions of social needs, goals and values that are not well-grounded Claims that are based on actual research results or other scientific data Quasi-ideological claims that while may be true, so far unproven Purely ideological beliefs with unclear evidential support

13 Certain examples (Schummer 2008) Science policy goals as unquestionable facts Higher necessity to conduct research (naturally determined) Opportunity to present NT goals as societal needs NT as next ”industrial revolution”

14 Cf. the biotechnology revolution Pharmaceutical innovation process: between 1978 and 1998 substantial increase in bioscience publications Seven-fold increase in patenting (USPTO classes 424 and 514, therapeutically active compounds) Ten-fold increase in R&D spending (Nightingale and Martin 2004)

15 Results of Nightingale and Martin Same number of drugs approved by the FDA in 2002 as in 1982 (lag of 4-8 years between investments/patents) During the period of Jan 1986 – Apr 2004 only 16 biopharmaceuticals were better than “minimal improvements,” compared to pre-existing treatments At least three were already characterized in 1980 (biotech research has only improved the production techniques) (Nightingale and Martin 2004)

16 Impact on scientific goals The US National Cancer Institute’s goal is to “eliminate suffering and death from cancer by 2015” The role of technological developments? The role of cultural factors and personal choices?

17 Possible lessons for the nanotechnology In pharmaceutical innovation process expectations were “wildly optimistic and overestimate the speed and extent of the impact of biotechnology” At first, rapid and localized quantitative improvements in productivity that mislead the interpretations of the situation Vested interests of -management consultants -financial analysts -venture capitalists (Nightingale and Martin 2004)

18 National Nanotechnology Initiative in the U.S. and nano-, bio-, information and cogno (NBIC) The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored report stated that human enhancement is a greater societal need, rather than goals of specific interest groups Among others, claim that human has become the weakest link, both physically and cognitively, in modern warfare NBIC-projects with intention to Human experiments on brain-machine implants Genetic-/biochemical engineering of humans Enhancing human capacities for the purposes of warfare (Roco & Bainbridge 2002, as in Schummer 2008)

19 Ideological notions in the NBIC-report (2002) According to Joachim Schummer, the implicit aim is to create transhumanist world or harmonous cyber-network society (by means of the U.S. taxpayer funding) NBIC as a tool for transhumanism (Schummer 2008): ”[…] the NBIC-report includes most of the central features of human enhancement that transhumanists consider as steps towards their salvation…Under the heading of nanotechnology, and by the help of the military and transhumanists, these ideas have now become part of official science policy agenda in the US.” (Schummer 2008)

20 Making the normative stances explicit The normative dimension of science policy reports and publications is always present, but not always clear There is a need for (Schummer 2009) Philosophical analysis of science policy concepts and reports Empirical scrutinity of science policy claims about NT and other converging technologies Critical assessment of technological visions and policies Sociological analysis of the role and dynamics of NT-debate

21 Some concluding remarks It seems that in the NT debate several viewpoints and assumptions are widespread and promoted, but without clear evidentiary support or public acceptance Some of these notions originated already decades ago in studies that relied on outdated data or questionable research paradigms (e.g. Drexler 1986) The problematic ideological contents may have also been moving from one publication to another, thereby affecting goals and aims of science policy in various countries

22 Thank you Contact


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