Ethics is the study of good and bad, right and wrong, and also the evaluation of our morality. In the advent of any new technology, there are usually two sides to the coin. Nuclear power vs. weapons, biological antidotes vs. warfare, resource mining vs. sustainability etc. Nanotechnology is no exception. Actually in the case of nanotech, we are not yet certain of which side of the coin our current research and commercialization efforts are falling on. There are:
- no long-term toxicity or environmental impact studies;
- efficiency of manufacturing is rarely questioned;
- there is no telling what new nanomaterials are capable of until they are generated; and but not limited to
- considering nanotech as another technological advancement may further demean under-developed countries.
Several groups on nanoethics exist, including The Nanoethics Group, The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), The International Council on Nanotechnology, Latin American Nanotechnology, Society Network (ReLANS) and Focus Nanotechnology Africa Inc. (FONAI). Such groups have limited political and economic power to guide decision making on nanotechnology. Their strategy is to first educate the public through various outreach programs. With public support, such groups can also proceed to establish links and collaboration agreements with academic institutions and governments.
A new Journal of Responsible Innovation was launched to cover a wide range of responsible innovation topics beyond traditional risk and environmental health and safety concerns. These topics include the broader and more subtle issues of the moral, cultural, political, religious, democratic and sustainability implications of innovation and research.
A study by Washington and Lee University has indicated that one’s perception of nanotechnology may depend on the region where they live. The study focuses on Germany and the U.S., since they invest the most in nanoscience and technology (NST). In Germany, NST news are broadcast more frequently and report more short-term and realistic expectations. Meanwhile in the U.S., NST news are less frequent and highlight more breathtaking potentials. It is worth noting that for Germany,nanotech publications and awareness has still been reducing from the years 2008-2012.