Monday, December 12, 2005

Nanoparticle risk

More research is being called for on the risks of nanoparticles
Scientists manipulating matter at the molecular level have improved on hundreds of everyday products in recent years and are promising dramatic breakthroughs in medicine and other industries as billions of dollars a year are pumped into the nascent sector.

But relatively little is known about the potential health and environmental effects of the tiny particles — just atoms wide and small enough to easily penetrate cells in lungs, brains and other organs.

While governments and businesses have begun pumping millions of dollars into researching such effects, scientists and others say nowhere near enough is being spent to determine whether nanomaterials pose a danger to human health.
Crichton's "Prey" makes an appearance in the article, of course, but let me just say one thing -

Admit it, this frightens you:

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Method?

The NYTimes Magazine had an excellent short piece today about the nature of science. The best part was this paragraph:
Among philosophers of science, there is a perfectly respectable (if minority) view called "instrumentalism." According to this view, scientific theories do not yield a true picture of a mind-independent reality; they are merely useful tools that enable us to predict our experience and have a measure of control over it. History provides some support for instrumentalism. Scientific progress, it has been observed, takes place by funerals. Since past scientific theories have invariably proved false - phlogiston, anyone? - we can expect the same of our present and future theories. That does not take away from their utility as engines for turning out cures and weapons and gadgets, or at their most picturesque, as abstract stories to keep us in awe before the cosmos.
Though I'm not so sure it's a minority view among philosophers of science, it is one that I think is a more useful view than the one that says that science is the "Truth." It's a very post-modern view but it is also one that enables scientists to use any means necessary to solve problems, so long as they work. Instead of talking about Truth, better scientists should say both that a certain theory does the best job of explaining the current data and predicting new data in a field and that it asks the questions most likely to create new and interesting data. After all, isn't that what is really important in science.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In the context of nanotechnology

In The Scientist:

Nanotechnology can learn much from history. As the biotechnology industry recently discovered, ignoring public policy and social issues – namely, possible heath and environmental hazards from genetically modified foods – invites a public backlash that crippled progress and sent corporate stocks plummeting. If nanotechnology is billed as the "Next Industrial Revolution", then it also must raise a host of important social and ethical questions that we need to consider now.

The following are some of issues in "nanoethics." Many of them are familiar to philosophy and ethics, but considering them in the context of nanotechnology is important and can reveal new insights.

It's by Patrick Lin, of the Nanoethics Group.