Tuesday, November 29, 2005

AARST in Boston - not optimal

On November 16, 2005, I participated in a workshop held by the American Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology (http://aarst.jmccw.org/) as part of the National Communication Association Convention in Boston from the 17-20. Up front, when you go to the AARST website, there is an ad for AARST thongs at this site (http://www.cafepress.com/aarst.14703376). No comment.

These are colleagues on mine in rhetorical studies. In general, I left concerned that rhetorical theorists seems more interested in studying historical artifacts than getting their hands dirty in contemporary issues. This seems to be a recurring issue in the entire field of the societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology and will be an issue I return to soon.

While there are some rhetoricians involved in the "Intelligent Design" controversy (for better and worse), few of the others seem concerned with contemporary science issues except for an impressive group from the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu). Led by a young aggressive assistant professor named Lisa Keranen, her students presented an preliminary analysis examining a speech by John Marburger.

Included as part of the workshop was a presentation by Chris Mooney on his book THE REPUBLIC WAR ON SCIENCE and he added a brief discussion of the Plan B issue (fiasco). I had a chance to speak with Mooney and plan on reviewing his book against some others in the area of politicizing science.

Monday, November 14, 2005


I thought you'd enjoy this. I call this a below the radar release.

On p. 28 of a recent NSF publication on a meeting I attended in December 03 (yeah, that's right '03).

"The Department of Defense is supporting a Multiidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program to create predictive models for cellular response to nanoparticles of varying size, shape, charge, and composition and their influence on the cellular, sub-cellular, and biomolecular levels. This research is creating a significant body of knowledge of reactions between nanoscale materials and biological materials."

Recently, I learned The PIs are Gunter Oberdorster and Jacob Finkelstein (both from the University of Rochester). I was reminded that both are highly regarded and doing some very important work.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Report on MSU First IFAS Conference

On November 17-20, I was in East Lansing, MI at the Kellogg Convention Center at Michigan State University. This was a NIRT funded conference: “What Can Nano Learn from Bio?” I spent the first two days listening. Overall I was under-impressed.

First, attendance was very weak. On the first day, the weakest performance was given by Margaret Mellon from the Union of Concerned Scientists who demonstrated a substantially deficient understanding of the state of the technology and the issues in human and eco-toxicology. When she applauded the ETC Group for their work, I sat on my hands. Manish Mehta presented from data from a 2005 NCMS (National Center for Manufacturing Sciences) Industry Survey which while interesting was given over lunch and we really didn’t have the time or opportunity to investigate the findings in detail. They are preliminary and we will learn more soon. Phil Macnaughten from Lancaster’s Institute for Environment, Philosophy & Public Policy continued his explications of the upstream participation model which, while interesting on many levels, seems irrelevant to American policy making in science and technology since there are actually no access points built into the process. Please: no more categorization of respondents as London housewives. The second day ended with an introduction to ethics from Jeff Burkhardt from the University of Florida.

The second day began with Sonia Miller of CTBA doing her thing which is always entertaining, but she hadn’t enough time to do much but rush through slides. For me, Paul Thompson stole the show by challenging the analogy between GMOs and nano (maybe, that’s because I couldn’t agree more). Also on the second day, Chris Phoenix did his thing with molecular manufacturing and somehow managed to anger someone in the audience by mis-categorizing what he had said to him in a private discussion.

I stayed for the evening and morning sessions and was much more vocal. While the parties gathered discussed publishing a book involving some of the presentations, I am hesitant to think there is a market for this material. Considering there is no committed publisher, I have my doubts.

Overall, nano is entering the market. I seemed to be the only person there who had done any research in agriculture and forestry applications of nanoscience and had data to discuss on this subject. No one seemed concerned with labeling questions. And I am concerned that we are flogging the metaphor of nano and GMOs to death when it is only a rhetorical device.

The good news is Thompson is very bright and I wish I knew the rest of their team better. I have new Larry Busch and John Stone and am anxious to read some of their materials. I expect MSU will put together something that will be valuable to understanding how nano will impact our world. However, I am unclear what nano can learn from bio still.


Sorry for being away but the book is at the printers now. My next piece will probable be an article on the Center for Nanotechnology in Society NSEC funding. Look for it.


The award is for hype as exaggeration rather than hype as fear, esp. irrational fear mongering.

In the summer 2005 issue of ISSUES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, Sen. George Allen wrote an opinion piece titled: "The Economic Promise of Nanotechnology" pp. 35-36. In response, I penned "Nanotechnology Politics" which appeared in the fall 2005 issues of ISSUES, pp. 16 & 18.

My complaint is pretty much my mantra these days. Too much hyperbole. We need to make fewer promises of economic prosperity to reduce expectations. For most of America, nano is the name of a pair of pants and an iPod. What if nano does for our economic what virtual reality technologies did?

I also complained about the rhetoric of economic nationalism (a subject I intend to investigate in greater detail at another time.