June 22, 2005

A Gathering Storm?

It probably hasn't escaped anyone's attention that discussion of the potential downside of nanotechnologies, and we are more concerned about sunscreens here than grey goo wielding nanobots, has not abated, with insurers and environmental groups pumping out reports on a regular basis. While some represent genuine attempts to frighten people for various political ends, the more rational of these reports early always conclude that "more research needs to be done."

In fact this research is being done, and in some cases has been done, especially by companies launching consumer products, but a large number of unknowns still remain. Manu companies are confused, with the threat of unknown legislation hanging over them, and insurers taking their usual course of action when risks cannot be fully quantified - hiking premiums.

Three years ago, a professor of nanotechnology of our acquaintance mused that his worst nightmare would be to spend the next few years discussing social, ethical and environmental dangers of nanotechnologies rather than getting some research done, and that nightmare has become reality for a number of nanoscientists. Of course the case hasn't been helped by the number of organizations boosting nanotechnologies, instantly claiming that there are few dangers and if there were to be any they could be easily managed.

We've spent long enough in London, Brussels, Washington DC and Tokyo discussing these issues over the last few months to have a good idea of the direction im which all this is heading. While reports into the downside of nanotechnologies all follow a similar pattern (what is nanotechnology, what are the issues, what are the risks, we recommend m ore research), we are definitely seeing the emergence of a number of areas which may give cause for concern, and we are talking about real, not perceived risks here.

The bottom line for us is that we have seen enough confusion and realized that industry needs some real clarity in this area. As a result we have put together a free white paper covering the issues of risks and legislation, but more significantly we are advise an increasing number of companies on what this may mean to them. With markets for products utilizing nanotechnologies being global, and companies facing the threat of US litigation or EU regulation, there is a real sense of urgency among the business community to resolve and clarify these issues, before they become roadblocks.

Posted by Cientifica at June 22, 2005 09:35 AM

I thought it was interesting that the Lux Research report (A Prudent Approach to Nanotech EHS Risks) that is quoted on the first page of the Cientifica white paper claims that perceived risks are of more concern than real risks, specifically saying that "more revenue is exposed to perceptual risk" than to actual risk.

On the flip side, Cientica's white paper asserts that real risks are of more concern, citing the possibility of law suits and legislation.

Just curious who's right here. Seems to me that in the end perceived risk is really all that matters. Not only will consumers not purchase products perceived to be risky, but juries and legislators also make decision based on their own perception. Of course, scientists' and doctors' testimony may play a large factor, but people believe what they want to believe.

Posted by: Kevin McCarrell at June 22, 2005 10:14 PM

Cientifica's report is fairly explicit in this regard: "Perceived risks...can affect consumer behavior and hence impact business."

However, the report states: "Such risks however are unlikely to result in either class action suits or legislation."

One is a risk of not gaining a business and the other is actually having your company sued. Both are indeed risks. However, the distinction between the two is important with many companies finding the latter far more threatening than the former.

Posted by: Cientifica at June 27, 2005 04:22 PM
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