Nanotechnology and Politics: "Cherry Picking" Nanotechnology Intelligence

I have read and heard many of the complaints about how politics gets its dirty fingers into nanotechnologyâ''s development, and sometimes even suffered the consequences.

But now, for the first time, I have read in a new blog, primarily authored by the Chief Scientist at the Project for Emerging Technologies, Andrew Maynard, an analogy between the Bush administrationâ''s â''cherry pickingâ'' of intelligence to go to war in Iraq with its approach to dealing with toxicology issues surrounding nanotech.

This will certainly get the environmentalists in a stir. Yes, the same bad guys who got the US into a war in Iraq are planning to poison us with nanotech by selecting out all the bad intelligence. When it will all get on the Bill Maher show?

Maynard takes a clever blow at Floyd Kvamme, the co-chair of the Presidentâ''s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), for his testimony before Congress last week in which he related how research has shown that nanomaterials have little environmental impact, but more research should be ongoing.

Maynard figuratively, and I imagine literally, is holding a bag of carbon nanotubes he bought from Cheap Tubes Inc. as he writes his piece to illustrate his point. Poor Cheap Tubes, they sell nanotubes to the research and industrial communities, and they get reduced to a prop for the sake of argument.

Maynardâ''s argument goes, or so I understand it, Kvamme is off base because he thinks the only risk we really need to address is the safety of the product in which the nanomaterials are integrated. Not so, because you can buy a bag of carbon nanotubes for $80--free (that is, not fixed in a matrix) manufactured nanoparticles .

Hmmhâ'¿I can go to a plumbing supply store and buy 90% concentration sulfuric acid too, and used improperly it would most certainly send me to the hospital. I guess we should ban its use, but say goodbye to nylon.

Hazard x Exposure=Risk. Many of the products we use everyday, including the computer you are reading this blog on, contain toxic materials, which by themselves and not integrated into the material matrix that makes up the final product would pose a hazard. Our exposure to the actual hazard is reduced when they are fixed in another material matrix, thereby reducing the risk.

Industries and governments have developed safeguards and regulations to ensure that the risks posed by these hazardous materials are reduced for those manufacturing the products, and then in the final product we buy and use.

The non-hysteric approach to containing the risk of nanoparticles being integrated into our consumer products was laid back in 2004 by the Royal Society.

You first have to distinguish between â''manufacturedâ'' versus â''environmentalâ'' nanoparticles. You see, man-made nanoparticles have been quite abundant since we started driving rubber tires over asphalt roads (carbon black) and you can even go back to the harnessing of fire. But the â''manufacturedâ'' type we discuss today are nanoparticles like carbon nanotubesâ''nanoparticles that are designed and manufactured to enable other materials.

Then the Royal Society rightly pointed out that attention and research should be focused on â''freeâ'' nanoparticles as opposed to those that are confined in a â''matrixâ''. The concern was for the workers using the nanomaterials in free form in the manufacturing of final products.

But unfortunately none of this will come down to strength of one argument over another. It will be decided by who can move the political machinery more effectively, whether it be within the halls of Congress or on the street of public opinion.


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