Thursday, December 8, 2005

Review of MRS Meeting in Boston week of Nov 29

First, I flew in and stayed a day to do my bit and flew out. As such, there is a lot of things happening at MRS and I am blogging just the day I was there and just the section dealing with SEIN.

The session was on Policy and Legal Approaches for Nanotechnology, took place on December 1, and was chaired by Melissa Hoffer from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hall and Dore LLP (Boston).

First up was Jo Anne Shatkin from Cadmus and she gave a straightforward introduction to the general issues. She emphasized a life cycle approach. I spoke next one "Tale of 3 Algorithms" and efforts to design an algorithm for public communication of applied nanoscience given the current state of the nanocosm. Nora Savage from EPA presented the policy spin and was joined by a fellow at EPA who covered the voluntary program under TSCA. I just wish everyone would just deal with the new versus existing issue. This is the nexus of most of the regulatory issues. Next James Votaw from Wilmer Cutler discussed some issues that are associated with regulation.

Kevin Ausman from CBEN discussed the ICON toxicology database (http://icon.rice.edu/research.cfm) and Evan Michelson was eloquent and covered the Woodrow Wilson version (http://www.nanotechproject.com/index.php?s=inventories) which is very good and should be visited. He claimed this resource might be useful for a gap analysis in toxicology.

Next there was a panel. I pulled myself off this panel discussed since the focus was nearly entirely on specific regulatory formulas and databases.

The afternoon session began with the "Unsinkable" Sonia Miller from CTBA who covered some highlights from recent appraisals of the NNI. Fred Klaessig from Degussa made a presentation on rhetorical chemistry which was interesting (it highlights the role of science in public dialog), Ahson Wardak from UVA discussed highlights in public health regulation and performed a basic gap analysis in terms of regulation, Valdimir Murashov from NIOSH did a tremendous job reviewing OSHA and the new NIOSH initiative on best practices and discussed a dynamic peprspective in differentiating between nanoparticles and challenges in filtering, Barbara Beck from the Gradient Corp. discussed exposure scenarios and more iterative frameworks, and Melissa Hoffer covered workplace regulatory issues and the relationships between uncertainty and chilling effects in terms of commercialization.

I joined the next panel. We discussed a variety of issues. We also were asked by one of the promoters of the event why we thought it was so poorly attended by the material scientists. Truth be told, we have a long trek ahead of us because there remains some sense that scientists and technologists have enough to do and policy issues are not their concern. This is much too big an issue to cover here.

My overall impression was these sessions needed to happen because the transition to a world where science and technology policy is a public sphere concern will take time and it needs to be built. That is a slow and sometimes tedious process.

I was fairly outspoken (how about that!) that only a small percentage of the American public are actually concerned about science and technology policy and the studies that ask for opinions about science generate interest that is only artificial. I remain convinced (and one day I will try to get someone to fund research in this) that we need to understand the unique demographic of the small percentage who are concerned. We need to separate their grounds of interest from those articulated by NGOs and other interests groups since their self-sustaining interests color their objectivity. Once we know our audience, we can fashion an outreach and public education strategy that really makes sense. Right now, our shotgun approach is doomed to limited success or outright failure. Many of these concerns will be part of my new research project that hopefully will culminate in another book-length deliverable.

DISCLAIMER - I am serving on the steering committee from ICON (International Council on Nanotechnology) and am working on their communication program. To date, I do not think it has not affected my objectivity but you can decide that.

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