The Nanoethics Group recently released its report "Nanotechnology Bound: Evaluating the Case for More Regulation," to attempt to summarize the arguments for more regulations to control the development and use of nanotechnology. The report is found in the most recent issue of the journal NanoEthics. The article does a good job in presenting the arguments for and against stricter nanotechnology regulation, and in fact presents both sides of the argument without bias or political agenda.
The article begins by setting forth the arguments that have been presented for stricter regulation of nanotechnology, as well as the context for why stricter regulation is being called for. The Group then sets forth the arguments against stricter regulation, and an analysis of each objection. Each analysis, while brief, is thoughtful and presented to provide a balanced look at both sides of the debate for stricter regulation.
However, what makes this article particularly noteworthy is that it presents a straightforward, and rather simple, alternative to stricter controls. Noting that passing new laws and promulgating new regulations is not easy, the Group suggests "running faster to catch up." That is to say, testing methods and regulatory planning should be accelerated in order to keep pace with nanotechnology development. In that way, the data gap that everyone admits exists will begin to close, while contingency regulatory plans are put into place should testing data reveal a serious problem. In this way, nanotechnology research and development, as well as testing and regulatory development can all proceed in concert.
This is a novel approach (novel in the sense that I haven’t seen anyone suggest it), which deserves thought and consideration. Like most other "hot topics," the solution to the question of regulation will need to consist of a compromise between all interested parties. Those interested and involved in the debate should read this article and give some thought to the solution proposed. The Group admits that there are questions present with its proposed compromise, and even then it is likely only a temporary measure while more is learned. However, it strikes me as a reasonable step in the development and control of this technology.
Finally, the Group touches on a thought that I wanted to state more plainly here. The article asks the question that assuming "current laws are inadequate, would new or stronger laws be enough to fill that gap?" To me, that poses the next logical thought (well, logical to me anyway): perhaps then, the answer is not more or stronger laws and regulations, but rather, different laws and regulations. Specifically, those that take into account this new area of science and technology that current laws were not designed to address. Perhaps the long-term answer is a new set or series of laws and regulations that are developed and authored to directly address the development and control of nanotechnology. Admittedly, we are not there yet, but, along with the other issued raised by the Group, something to consider.
About The Nano Ethics Group:
Founded in 2003, The Nanoethics Group is a research & education organization – not an advocacy, activist or watchdog group. What makes us different is that, where other organizations have already made up their minds either for or against nanotechnology, or are tied to certain interests, we have no agenda other than to keep an open mind and go where analysis & common sense lead us. More information can be found here.