Nanotech: Balancing real risk, political risk and the risk of hype
February 20, 2012 - 5:42 am
Vincent Caprio, executive director of the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association, asked me to contribute to his series of interviews with influential voices in the science and business of nanotech. So, I interviewed Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan, who has been studying risks associated with nanotech for more than a decade. He had some interesting things to say about assessing risk based on science, rather than political pressure, the need to alter one’s views as more becomes known about nanotech and the risk of overhyping a technology. Here’s an excerpt:
When Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan, read the text of a recent lawsuit by consumer advocates against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which claims the FDA is failing to regulate nanomaterials in products, one phrase jumped out at him. The groups used the words “fundamentally unique properties” when referring to nanoscale ingredients.
The phrase, in fact, comes directly from marketing material of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. So, in one sense, the nanotech industry is a victim of its own public relations, Maynard believes. A phrase used to promote nanotech commercialization is being thrown back at nanotech advocates by those who would use the same logic to demand strict regulations.
“There is an assumption that you can have everything your own way,” Maynard says. “You can say something was unique and important and world-changing, selling the hype, and yet not really understanding what the long-term consequences of that hype are.”
This is what Maynard does for a living. He tries to reach beyond hype and beyond gloom to assess and communicate the real risks associated with emerging technologies, including nanotechnology. But he approaches these assessments from a starting point that seems increasingly difficult to achieve in these polarized political times – one based on scientific principles rather than political agenda.
Read the whole thing here.