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Nanotechnology and the Public Interest: Some Comparative Observations

G.A. Hodge and D.M. Bowman
Monash University, AU

Keywords:
public interest, public policy, accountability

Abstract:
This paper examines the future of nanotechnology in the context of the public interest. It adopts a comparative jurisdictional approach, and examines how the public interest may be protected in this group of sciences. The paper notes that while governments around the world invested $US4.6 billion alone in 2004 (Lux Research, 2005), the public presently understands neither the implications of this emerging technology nor how it might be best governed in the interests of citizens.
 
The paper concludes that while governing emerging technologies in the public interest is not a new concept, the concerns currently being raised by nanotechnology critics and by the technology itself do present unique challenges (CSIRO, 2004; PMSEIC, 2005). As well, this paper argues that governments continue to act as both a promoter of this emerging technology (given its economic promise), and the guardian of the public interest (given its risks). Looking at the collective concerns raised by stakeholders within the United Kingdom, and other EU countries, Australia and Canada, it is suggested that a stronger and clearer framework for protecting the public interest and guaranteeing a range of independent accountabilities with nanotechnology is required. The early articulation of priority areas for policy development as well as options for sensible regulatory approaches will not only strengthen the confidence of citizens and governments, but also lead to better informed nanotechnology investors, industry stakeholders and consumers.

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