In late September, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) released its priorities for risk research needs. The report has come back to the forefront of nano discussions because the NNI held meetings in January to allow other interested parties to comment on it. While the report is being widely criticized for either taking too long to develop, or for failing to prioritize research needs and strategies any more than listing areas where researchers lack knowledge, the report shows how much education is still needed.
However, when the report and the associated criticisms are put into a larger context, a recurring theme begins to appear. In light of the recent movement for regulating nanotechnology and nanomaterials, including the ordinance enacted by Berkeley, a similar ordinance being considered by Cambridge, MA, and most recently, the U.N. report calling for "swift action" concerning nanotechnology regulation, recently discussed by Patrick, here, there is a growing disconnect between nanotechnology knowledge and nanotechnology regulation. While a precautionary principle is appropriate for new technologies that are not yet fully understood, there must be a logical connection between the risks posed by nanotechnology and the resulting regulatory efforts. To charge ahead with regulation, without an understanding of the technology being regulated, more harm than good may result. Like most intersections between industry and law, there must be a balance between allowing industry and science to develop products in a responsible manner without overburdening a budding sector with regulations that do not understand the nature of the area and the risks posed. To that end, researchers and regulators need to keep communicating with each other openly and honestly about discoveries and political movements.