The Discipline of NanoEthics Needs to Exercise Some Discipline
My patience with ethicists who apply themselves to the subject of nanotechnology has worn pretty thin already.
So I was not really in the mood for another of these articles. But alas, let me point you in the direction of this latest piece entitled â''The Wild West of Nanotechnologyâ''.
Before addressing this colorfully titled article, let me start by explaining that what is paramount to understanding the nanoethicist is that the ethical issues they are concerned about deal more with genetic research, stem cell research or some other scientific discipline in which the relationship to nanotechnology is tangential at best.
It seems just a tiresome idea to these ethicists that technologies such as genetic profiling can be done without nanotechnologies; nanotech just makes them faster and cheaper. But, of course, putting the ethical dilemma in those terms sort of makes nanotech inconsequential to the whole matter.
No, sir, theyâ''ll have none of that.
So again letâ''s look at the Wild West article. While the author, Summer Johnson, Executive Managing Editor of The American Journal of Bioethics, explains to us that â''Wild Westâ'' is a term that is â''actually a good thing for nanotechnology's image,â'' I strangely conjured up images of lawlessness. How silly of me.
Of course, no article on nanotechnology can go without some kind of description of how huge it is. Whether nanotech is a Gold Rush or the next Industrial Revolution, the idea has to be gotten across that itâ''s some huge money-making, corporate monolith. In this case, to magnify how large nanotech is in medicine we get the following: â''Multiply that times the amount of money being invested by NNI and venture capitalists and other private investment and you begin to grasp the grandiosity of nanomedicine as an endeavor.â''
Really? That is the undetermined factor you want to multiply by? Letâ''s try on some real figures. Estimates have pegged VC funding of nanotech over the last seven years at about $1 billion. And the US government has spent a little less than $8 billion over the last 5 years. Those are the factors but to give you a little comparison, the NASA budget announced for 2009 alone is $17.6 billion.
I am feeling a little less convinced of the â''grandiosityâ'' of nanomedicine or any other nano for that matter.
You know, the real issue that ethicists want to talk about when it comes to nanotechnology is self-replicating nanobots. But in order to do that you have to be both a futurist (with an extremely open mind) and an ethicist. But undeterred, Johnson did not shy away from nanobots in this piece and she does so by using the term as a metaphor for the number of applications popping up for nanotechnology. Well done! I think that marks a first.
Finally, we get to the real crux of the matter for Johnson. It appears that she got duped into giving a presentation for an organization she claims was fraudulent called the Academy of Nanomedicine (AANM).
All I can say is that I am impressed. You drag the entire reputation of the field of nanotechnology through the mud to indict some guy by the name Wei--I really have to look into this whole ethicist business.