Sunday, September 25, 2005

NANOHYPE AWARD - September 2005 - and a Review of PATH OF DESTRUCTION

Winner of the NANOHYPE AWARD for September is PATH OF DESTRUCTION.

SCI FI Channel 9/24/2005 9:00 P.M. ET/PT

So this was an evil nano movie!!!! You've got to be kidding and how do I get those two hours back.

Best line in the movie –

“A pine tree up the ass really changes your perspective on life.”

Best references to evil nanobots –

Pac-man on steroids” and “Robo-germ.”

Best euphemism –

President of the USA called the bots a “biochemical matter” which was not far off the mark.

If this is the type of film advocates of nanotechnology are concerned about, then we have big problems with the advocates. As long as Hollywood puts out films like this, we can expect the public to ridicule rather than worry about how nanotechnology might be portrayed.

A fluff reporter Katherine searching for "a story that mattered" and a glorified meteorologist named Nathan save the West Coast from a cloud of dissembling nanobots by convincing Colonel Thomas Miller to fly a paper and plastic airplane called ICARUS (which just happens to be at a convenient air base) into the cloud of nanobots to detonate an EMP weapon. The result is bye-bye bots and a black snowfall over the greater LA area.

The project originally funded by the military was called SERENA (self-replicating nanotechnology agents). After the funding by the military was pulled, STARKCORP under the direction of its CEO contracts with the People’s Republic of China to test dissembling nanobots. They break out of containment (which, oddly enough, was at an oil platform) which was somehow related to their need for energy (though unexplained).

The bots SFX were unashamedly taken from Matrix Revolutions (those many armed machines in the finale) and the ending was a copy of Independence Day including a patriotic strut to the airplane rather than from the crash. In a salute to the Governator, Miller (the colonel) on exploding the EMP weapon has the line “disassemble this!” There were at least three references to oral sex and the reporter ingenuously found ways to expose her midriff throughout most of the entire movie. Except for the water tank special effect that produced the cloud, the SFX were terribles, examples: the bullet exploding off the walls in the offices of STARKCORP looked like snapcaps and the blood was excessive and the wrong color. Oh yeah, the dialogue was idiotic especially the pick-up lines as the movie ended and the objectifying remarks about women.

I don’t know what the film’s market share was, however Prey might be something to worry about on that account, but Path of Destruction was incredibly stupid and the performances were laughable. David Keith was better growling his way through X-Men and Danica McKellar didn’t seem to learn much during her Wonder Years though she has a nice set of abdominals.

OK, I did like two things. First, Seattle gets creamed, esp. the part of the city involved in conspicuous consumption and second, I enjoyed the ad from American Chemistry.com during the telecast.

Report on UK NanoJury

This was interesting on many levels. I felt the following results should be noted.
1. There should be more openness on where public money is spent on nanotechnology research. The government should set up partnerships with nations leading in those technologies that can improve health.
2.All manufactured nano-particles should be labeled in plain English, classified and tested for safety as it they were a new substance.
3.Manufactured nano-particles should be tested in controlled environments before they are let into the environment.
4.Scientists should improve their communication skills.


The preliminary findings of the UK NanoJury were presented on September 21, 2005 at The Guardian in London. I attended as did 40 others, some from other countries, esp. France. At the meeting were four jurors, coordinators, and some advisers. The jury took place in Halifax and the other particulars have been reported elsewhere.

Becky Willis chaired the oversight panel and referred to herself as a wrangler. She admitted she assisted in terms of which witnesses to select and in the creation of the information packets. She found the event transformative and hopes it represented the beginning on a more deliberative approach to policy making.

Bano Murtuja, a facilitator, reported the jury was composed from electoral registers and was supplemented by other sources, i.e., community groups, etc. There was a training process that occurred when the jurors first considered the issue of youth crime before moving onto a discussion of nanotechnology. A nice touch was red cards that were raised when witnesses used jargon without explaining themselves.

Jaz Singh, another facilitator, discussed the sectioning, brainstorming, and role-playing processes.

A video of the event followed.

Next the four jurors were introduced.

Bill reported his support for most technology, esp. as it impacted health. He was especially concerned that the benefits should be distributed without discrimination based on ability to pay.

Rachel reported her support for technology relating to IT and communication. She did admit feeling patronized by the nanotechnology witnesses and admitted confusion when witnesses contradicted each other.

Elias reported his support for technology that would bring jobs to the UK.

Richard discussed the importance of labeling all nano-particles in plain English and referenced the use of zinc oxides in sunscreens. He also discussed concern regarding the release of nano-particles either in the testing phase or as remediation.

Tom Wakeford (PEALS – Newcastle) admitted the areas of reporting were not comprehensive, questioned whether replication of the event would be wise, the demographics did not attend to the physically or ably-challenged and especially the young who do not appear on electoral lists, the jury was concerned about being appeased, and noted there was NO support for a moratorium coming from this group. Singh added later that influence on selecting the witness pool needs to be reduced, the drop-out rates needed to be reduced as well (when the jury transitioned to nano from youth crime, there were drop-outs), and while he thought working with the jurors again might be profitable he mentioned “consultation fatigue” (something I will research later).

The advisers followed and overall they were impressed and were quite well informed.

Mark Welland (Cambridge) expressed the scientists have the same concerns as the public and the public domain needs to be included in decision making. He expressed concern that the process not be assigned to history per se. While pleased with the process, he said credibility and impact of the experiment must be witnessed by government taking the findings seriously.

Doug Parr (Greenpeace) referenced the GMO debacle and emphasized the importance of involvement.

Adrian Butt (DTI) emphasized debate at an early stage (upstream), applauded the courageous spirit of the group, Most importantly, as chair of the Nanotechnology Issues Dialogue Group, he intended to pass on the groups findings to the NIDG adding a wider social intelligence to what they do.

Barry Park (Oxonica) emphasized nano must be safe and beneficial and emphasized testing must occur now and the action must occur in a global context. (I retrained myself from asking why Oxonica’s nano-fuel additive was tested in Hong Kong rather than in the UK).

Next there were a series of questions and Nick Pigeon (East Anglia) announced he and Rogers-Hayden would be reviewing process much like what they did with GM Nation.

Richard Jones [author of Soft Machines] from Sheffield said the process was challenging and enjoyable. He did mention that there remains a very narrow focus in terms of scientific careers because that’s how scientists are rewarded. A broad view of science is generally discourages.

Monica Winstanley (BBSRC) explained the BBSRC support for public dialogues and worried whether the jury (and other like it) might make a nanometer of difference.

In the afternoon session, Murtuja discussed whether there should be more juries and whether this one needs to be replicated. She challenged Butt to bring these findings (see below) to the NIDG. She also speculated on “best practices” for outreach. There were some caveats to the motions (see below) that are missing in the preliminary report.

Next we broke into discussion groups.


Parr added questioned whether institutions can hold onto the engagement process and the results of deliberation like this jury. (I was in this discussion group and it became clear there was a strong problem with verticality and hierarchy as well as turf concerns that make cooperation across government in the UK challenging. I mentioned the Interagency Working Group in the USA that Roco chaired and how it attempted to deal with these exigencies in the USA). Parr worried in the current deregulatory vortex the UK is in that anything formative might erupt.

Peter Bryant, another jury facilitator, reported from his group. This group also speculated on what role the results will play in policy. There was a brief discussion about Science Cafes (another deliberative strategy). This group appreciated the empowering nature of the process and warned that without enough space to debate nano there could be a backlash.

Murtuja reported on her group and they were assigned to evaluate methodological challenges. She discussed capacities of deliberative democracy through experiments like this one, speculated on opening a dialogue with industry (the weakest partner in the process) and mentioned they have an interest because they want to make money (I refrained from adding “quickly” to the discussion because the long-term nature of paybacks from investment has been an incredibly challenge to VC funding in Europe).

RESULTS

There were RESULTS in four categories but I am going to report them in terms of the level of support instead. Sometimes the level of support included the phase but with some uncertain which I left out below. While some of these issues are not as important to Americans, they are reported below nonetheless. As well, the topics were affected by the choice of witnesses and subjects addressed.

Supported.

1.If public money is being spent, then members of the public and invited representatives of a wide range of organizations should form committee that decides at what stages of research public juries should be set up.
2.There should be more openness on where public money is spent on nanotechnology research.
3.At key stages of the development of any new technology, there should be public juries. More consultation with the public using plain English – those developing the technology meeting the public to inform us.
4.Government should support those nanotechnologies that bring jobs to the UK by investment in education, training and research.
5.Nanotechnology will only be good if they can enable us to have more quality leisure time including times for families and time for us personally.
6.The government should set up partnerships with nations leading in those technologies that can improve health.
7.All manufactured nano-particles should be labeled in plain English, classified and tested for safety as it they were a new substance.
8.Manufactured nano-particles should be tested in controlled environments before they are let into the environment.
9.Any new nano-medicines proven to be safe and effective must be available on the NHS without discrimination.
10.Governments grants for those pioneering the development, manufacture and use of better solar technologies.
11.Scientists should improve their communication skills, including going into schools to encourage science as a career path to all children.

Weak support
1.There should be less ethical controls and government red tape.
2.Poor people should be able to decide the prices of new technologies that are put onto the market.
3.Nanotechnology should only be allowed in they develop wealth for everyone.
4.The advertising standards authorities should be made aware of nanotechnology products where there is uncertainty about health and safety in order that the can prevent misleading adverts.
5.Certain ICTs, such as search engines, maps, language translators and educational sites should be made free to people in serious debt or in poverty.
6.ICT companies everywhere should ration the amount people are able to use their ICTs. When they over-use their communication time the ICT should cut out.
7.Normal citizens – people like us – should decide when nanotech starts getting used in ICTs.
8.Radiation and other health hazards associate with ICTs should be kept low enough so that children can use phones and other ICTs safely.
9.More wind turbines should be put at sea so that we are producing greener energy but are not spoiling the landscape.
10.Nanotechnologies should be used to run electricity cables more efficiently and underground.

FINALLY, Wakeford, Singh,Murtuja and Bryant have put together a draft paper: Towards two-way-street engagement: The theory and practice of NanoJury UK. It is worth reading and is a draft document.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Review of EuroNanoForum 2005

Sorry but I am still completing NANOHYPE (bits and pieces) and need to have my second book project to a foundation and my agent is a few weeks. Also, I am leaving on the 19th to go to the Greenpeace/Guardian announcements on the preliminary results of UK NanoJury.

On September 5-9, 2005, the Institute of Nanotechnology held the EuroNanoForum 2005: Nanotechnology and the Health of the EU Citizen in 2020 at the Edinburgh International Conference Center (EICC).

The EICC is an incredible facility only rivaled by the Swiss RE compound outside of Zurich. The Institute of Nanotechnology (ION) was an incredible host and brought together some outstanding speakers and programs of all sorts.

Unfortunately I missed the Monday workshops but got interviewed by Nanologue during the conference as part of their expert panels. Monday ended with a public debate on nanotechnology and healthcare which friends and colleagues reviewed well.

On Tuesday the sessions began and some ran parallel to each other. Most of the day was dedicated to technical presentations except for a session on commercializing nanomedicine. Before many of the reforms discussed can have any recognizable impact on European society, the venture capital climate will need to be improved in the EU. The evening was dedicated to an outstanding poster session that topped any I've seen in years. Some of the research on health and toxicology going on around the world was outstanding.

Wednesday involved a morning period of sessions on technical nanomedicine like convergence and its effects on medicine and health care and another on congenital and degenerative diseases. Both those were strong according to reports from friends and colleagues. The next set involved the session I was in and I led the group of four. I discussed two "gap" analyses done by me and others at South Carolina on toxicology and a second on communication of toxicology to the public. Joyce Tait discussed stakeholder engagement and we were followed by Volker Turk who covered the Nanologue project and Jennifer Palumbo who covered NanoDialogue, a fascinating science center initiative. There were four other sessions against ours. The evening included a reception at the Lord Provost's Offices at the Edinburgh City Chambers. While went on to hear the Cairngill Ceilidh Band and danced, I made my way to a pub with friends and we watches Scotland beat Norway and Northern Ireland beat England in soccer/football.

On Thursday I went to a session on Nanoparticle Risk Assessment. Ken Donaldson gave a primer on risk assessment, Paul Borm discussed cardiovascular effects of translocation, and Rob Aitken discussed exposure. The second group included Tilman Butz and Gunter Oberdorster discussing percutaneous uptake and CNS effects from inhalation respectively. The session was strong and during the post-session discussion Renzo Tomellini mentioned an initiative to pool toxicological information between the US, the EU, and others. Vicki Stone who was chairing the session mentioned the ICON database (http://icon.rice.edu/research.cfm). I serve on the advisory committee for ICON. In the afternoon, there was an interesting session involving Emilio Mordini on hopes, dreams and fairy tales and nano (incredibly entertaining), Donald Bruce from the Church of Scotland (much less entertaining) and Rogerio Gaspar (even less so). Then, Simone Scholze who was chairing the session starting talking and went on for 20 minutes. This session was troubling. I expected more the Dr. Bruce while he droned on in generalities. I expected much more from Dr. Gaspar who insulted the US NIH initiative as old stuff that had been accomplished in European labs years ago and repeated the mantra that nothing is new about nano as he banged away on the nationalist drum.

Unfortunately, I had to leave on Friday, but I made great contacts, enjoyed myself, and learned a lot about what was transpiring in human and health and nanomedicine in Europe.

I am not impressed by much but this conference was worth the travel. I also want to thank ION for inviting me. I was honored to be one of five Americans selected to participate. I hope to make next year's but that will depend on how our program is funded next year more than anything else.

I am sure I will address this later but it seems that Washington is more interested in having social scientists and humanists move nanotechnology out of the lab and into commerce than they are at research that might conclude nanotechonlogy needs to be re-examined and the public deserves a legitimate role in policy making.

Applauds to ION.

Finally, if you want to know more about the EU's nanomedicine initiatives, I recommend reading European Technology Platform on NanoMedicine: Nanotechnology for Health, Vision Paper and Basis for a Strategic Research Agenda for NanoMedicine, September 2005. It comes from the EU Publications Office. The URL is: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/industrial_technologies/pdf/nano_medicine_vision_paper_en.pdf.