Nanoscience, nanoscientists, and controversy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

11 Scopus citations


Contemporary life sciences and biotechnology research is controversial. Whether the topic is embryos, evolution, genetics, neuroimaging, pharmaceutical discovery, synthetic biology, or xenotransplantation, the research is subject to public, political, legal, regulatory, clinical, and/or scientific controversy. In some cases, the controversy may not be worth engaging, given the credibility (or, rather, lack thereof) of those who would object. Often, though, those who would object must be taken seriously- and even where the objectors lack credibility, any response to them must itself be serious. These are basic elements of civility in a pluralistic society, and yet they are widely ignored when science and scientists are the subjects of controversy. As a scholar of the life sciences in society, I have tended to pay less attention to the question of generally whether research in chemistry, math, physics, or engineering is as widely deemed to be controversial as is research in biology and biotechnology- except, of course, where that research is oriented toward or undertaken in concert with the life sciences (as with engineering in relation to stem cell biology, or chemistry in relation to directed molecular evolution). But with advances in nanos-cale science and engineering (NSE) research, it is hard to miss the fact that NSE is an exemplar of research in the natural and physical sciences that is controversial both in relation to the life sciences (as expected) but also in its own right. Whether because of the spatial or financial scale of the research, or because of the prospects for immense changes-good and bad-in science, industry, medicine, and society, or for a combination of these or other reasons, NSE research is paradigmatically controversial. So what?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNanotechnology and Society
Subtitle of host publicationCurrent and Emerging Ethical Issues
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781402093852
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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