Over this past year I have become intrigued by the growing practice of the US government of opening up its strategy for nanotechnology development to public input.
In my most recent blog on this subject, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) used the month of November to collect suggestions from the public on its then current draft of its strategy.
One week now into December and I am not sure what input the NNI collected, but we do know that they have announced a new public engagement scheme this time focused on getting input on its Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Research Strategy.
It will be possible to contribute thoughts on the current draft of the EHS strategy from December 6th to January 6th. At least one noted expert on EHS on nanotech will be taking full advantage of this one-month window.
I think this most recent public engagement move by the NNI has changed my attitude about these initiatives from mere intrigue to begrudging respect. I mean you are not going to find a more contentious issue (and one with fewer easy solutions, if any) than determining the course of EHS research and the NNI has just said, “Let us have it.”
And have it they no doubt will. As Andrew Maynard has already pointed out in his 20/20 Science blog the NNI has already come under sharp criticism in the past for its EHS research strategy from one of its own government cousins, the National Academy of Sciences.
Frankly, it’s pretty easy pickings to criticize the NNI, and anyone else you choose to target, for their less than coherent strategy on how to address EHS of nanomaterials.
You are essentially asking researchers—before they pick up their first microscope in anger—to develop a theoretical framework by which they can reinvent the periodic table.
And then as soon as they pick up that microscope, they discover that they have few to no microscopy tools at their disposal to enable the research.
But at least now we have one month of input from the public to sort this all out.