Category: Policy

Cross-posted from the Risk Science Blog The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report is one of the most authoritative annual assessments of emerging issues surrounding risk currently produced. Now in its seventh edition, the 2012 report launched today draws on over 460 experts* from industry, government, academia and civil society to provide insight into 50 global risks across five categories, within a ten-year forward looking window. Global Risk Landscape 2012. Source: World Economic Forum Global Risks 2012, Seventh Edition As you would expect from such a major undertaking, the report has its limitations. There are some risk trends that maybe aren’t captured as well as they could be – chronic disease and pandemics are further down the list this year than I would have expected. And there are others that capture the headlining concerns of the moment – severe income disparity is the top-listed global risk in terms of likelihood. But taken as a whole, the trends highlighted capture key concerns and the analysis provides timely and relevant insight. Risks are addressed in five broad categories, covering economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological risks. And cutting across these, the report considers three top-level issues under the headings Seeds of Dystopia (action or inaction that leads to fragility in states); How Safe are our Safeguards? (unintended consequences of over, under and unresponsive regulation); and The Dark Side of Connectivity (connectivity-induced vulnerability). These provide a strong framework for approaching the identified risks systemically, and teasing apart complex interactions that could lead to adverse consequences. But how does the report relate to public health more specifically? The short answer is that many of the issues raised have a direct or indirect impact on public health nationally and globally. Many of the issues are complex and intertwined, and are deserving of much more attention

Continue Reading →

The European Commission had just adopted a “cross-cutting designation of nanomaterials to be used for all regulatory purposes” (link). The definition builds on a draft definition released last year, but includes a number of substantial changes to this. Here’s the full text of the definition:

Continue Reading →

This coming Thursday (Oct 20 2011), the US National Nanotechnology Initiative is releasing the latest version of the Initiative’s federal nanotechnology environmental, health and safety research strategy.  The strategy will be available for download from 10:00 AM Eastern time, with a webinar on the release being held between 12:00 PM – 12:45 PM Eastern (registration required).  Further details can be found here. A draft of the research strategy was published in December 2010 for public comment – with the aim of using these comments where appropriate to strengthen the final strategy. In anticipation of the final version coming out on Thursday, I’ve been revisiting the public comments received.  They are still accessible on the NNI Strategy Portal, although you will need to register to read them (my comments are available separately here).  I’m particularly interested in how the NNI has addressed them in the final strategy.

Continue Reading →

In his opening remarks at this year’s Summit on the Global Agenda, World Economic Forum founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab placed the need for new models to support effective use of technology innovation firmly on the table. This is the fourth year I have participated in the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Summit – an intense two-day meeting of over 700 thought leaders from around the world to explore global emerging issues and opportunities and to begin developing possible solutions. On the Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies, we have been working hard on getting the opportunities and challenges presented by emerging technologies on the radar of top-level decision-makers.  Not because we think they should know about the latest cool technologies, but because we feel that effective solutions to complex challenges demand an integrated and proactive approach to technology innovation. It’s been a tough task – high level decision makers are often uneasy talking about science and technology, and prefer to assume that “techies” will deliver technology-based solutions to pressing problems as and when they are necessary.  Sadly, this is a model that doesn’t work well, and is rapidly running out of steam in the face of accelerating technological capabilities, increasing global connectivity and diminishing resources. So it was gratifying to hear WEF’s Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab highlight the need for new models to master technological trends in the Summit’s opening keynote.  Schwab emphasized the need for new models in five areas – the fifth being how we handle accelerating technologies: “Ladies and gentlemen, fifth, we need a new model to master the trend of technology. The velocity of technological change, for which we are not really prepared, will accelerate in an exponential manner, having significant implication on all of us. What is particularly striking, for me as an

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from The Risk Science Blog: In a recent letter to the journal Nature (Nature 476; 399), Hermann Stamm of the European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (JRC-IHCP) defended the need to define engineered nanomaterials for regulatory purposes. The letter, titled “Nanomaterials should be defined”, was a direct response to my earlier commentary in Nature “Don’t define nanomaterials”. Stamm’s letter is behind a paywall and so not easily accessible to many readers. But these are the main points he makes:

Continue Reading →

The materials that most current regulations were designed to handle are pretty simple by today’s standards. Sure they can do some nasty things to the environment or your body if handled inappropriately. And without a doubt some of the risks associated with these “simple” materials are not yet well understood – especially when it comes to long term and trans-generational impacts. Yet it’s hard to escape that reality that researchers are now designing new materials from the ground up that behave in novel ways, that have few analogs in the world of conventional materials, and that exhibit different properties according to the environment they are in. And as they do, it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of the regulations we rely on are ill-equip them to deal with the pending flood of sophisticated materials that is coming our way. The development of relatively simple engineered nanomaterials in recent years has highlighted this disconnect between established regulations and the new demands being placed on them. Fortunately, many of the first nanomaterials to emerge have not presented insurmountable challenges, and regulators have been able to stretch existing regulatory frameworks to cover them (although even this in itself has not been an easy task). But these are just the beginning of a trend in novel materials designed and engineered at the nanoscale that will transcend current regulatory mindsets. So what what are the options here? Before this question can be answered, a clearer understanding of the issues being faced needs to be developed. Some of these are explored by Graeme Hodge, Di Bowman and myself in a commentary in the August 2011 edition of the journal Nature Materials.

Continue Reading →

I must confess to being rather saddened this morning to read Roger Highfield’s New Scientist blog on the state of nanotechnology in the UK.  Hot on the heels of reports that the company Nanoco is threatening to leave Britain for more fertile grounds, it left me wondering what has happened to the promise of ten years ago, when the UK was without doubt a player in the nanotech arena.  But the real sadness comes from that fact that, beyond the nanotech hype, nanoscale science and engineering are without doubt going to underpin some of the most significant technological breakthroughs of the coming years – and the UK is in severe danger of missing the boat. Having left the UK eleven years ago to work in the US, I have retained a deep and personal interest in how Britain has invested in nanotechnology.

Continue Reading →

Registration is now open for the 2011 Risk Science Symposium, and as I’m chairing it, I thought it worth giving a bit of a plug here. The symposium brings together a fantastic cast of experts from very different backgrounds to explore the intersection of technology innovation and human health risk – with the aim of stimulating new thinking and ideas. If you are grappling with emerging risk issues in industry, government, academia or the non-profit sector, this will be the place to be in September (not that I’m bias!). A warning thought – space is limited to around 220 participants, so early registration is highly recommended. Further details on the speakers, program and registration can be found here. Some of the highlights include: An opening keynote by John Viera, Ford Motor Company Director of Sustainability Environment and Safety Engineering Insights from Paul Anastas, Science Advisor to the US EPA A UK perspective on technology innovation, risk and policy from James Wilsdon, Director of The Royal Society Science Policy Centre Cutting edge discussions on developments in science and technology that are pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Insights into emerging risk issues and innovative solutions A unique symposium dinner experience with designer Rodrigo Martinez from IDEO A chance to interact with some of the leading cross-disciplinary thought leaders on addressing emerging risk challenges. Draft Program Confirmed Speakers Registration

Continue Reading →

As anyone who has followed my work over the past few years will know, I have a deep interest in the potential benefits and risks associated with emerging technologies, and in particular whether we can swing the balance towards benefits by thinking more innovatively about risk and how we address it. So it’s not surprising that I’m extremely excited to be chairing this year’s Risk Science Symposium at the University of Michigan, which is all about how we can think differently about human health risk to support sustainable technology innovation. The symposium is shaping up to be a unique event, and one that I hope will expose participants to new ideas as well as energizing them to explore new possibilities as they work toward developing responsible and sustainable products based on technology innovations. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be firming up the program in time for early registration, opening on April 4. Something I’m particularly excited about is that the symposium is turning out to be a great opportunity to explore some different formats for getting people to think differently about common challenges. Rather than use the tried and tested – but often bum-numbingly boring – “talking heads” lecture format, we will be basing most of the proceedings on a series of moderated discussions. These will be designed to engage experts from different perspectives – as well as other participants – in addressing key questions, under the guiding hand of a strong moderator. It’s a format that one colleague described as “symposium speed-dating” – but I think it’s one that will encourage new ideas and insights, and lead to some extremely engaging exchanges. And in case you think that these will go the way of many panel discussions where participants simply use their time (and that of their fellow-speakers

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from the Risk Science Blog. As it did last year, the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos has left me with a daunting task – how do I summarize the highlights of the meeting in a single, short post? The answer of course is that I can’t – Davos is so complex, diverse and multi-layered that no single account could do it justice. But sitting here waiting for the flight home, I wanted to capture at least something of the past few days. World Leaders – world issues This year saw the usual parade of world-leaders passing through Davos, selling their wares in public, while cutting deals in private. In public and private, the unfolding events in North Africa, the Moscow terrorist attack and the world economy dominated discussions. As is fairly typical at Davos, not too much that was startling or new was announced in public. But this is a meeting where off the record meetings and encounters are everything. And given the isolation, camaraderie and personal access that pervades Davos, the barriers to meaningful exchanges are perhaps lower here than at almost any other gathering of the great and good. As one person pointed out to me – many delegates simply cannot afford to bring their usual entourage, meaning that the chances of conversations that get to the heart of issues – rather than leading a carefully choreographed dance around them – are reasonably high. And of course this is further enabled by the many social occasions that smooth the way for serious conversations. Business leaders – revealed values. This stripping away of the buffers between public personas and the people behind them is one aspect of Davos that continues to fascinate me. It’s one of the few places I know if where you can get

Continue Reading →

Cross-posted from the Risk Science Blog. Take a metaphorical slice through this year’s annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, and Global Risk would be writ large through every part of it.  Hot on the heels of the sixth Global Risk report, this year’s meeting saw the launch of the Risk Response Network – a new initiative to facilitate responsive, informed and integrative action on global risks.  And throughout the meeting, sessions and conversations abound that are grappling with understanding and mitigating emerging risks in today’s complex and interconnected world. But important and impressive as this agenda is, I wonder whether there is something missing. I’m approaching risk at Davos this year from three perspectives: exploring the relationship between science, innovation and risk; understanding the impact of emerging risks on public health; and developing technology-enabled approaches to risk mitigation.  The common themes here are science and technology – both as potential drivers of risk, and as sources of possible solutions. From my work in science, technology and public health, it is clear that a deep understanding of the roles of science and technology in addressing risk is critical to building resilient and sustainable responses to global risks.  It is also increasingly clear that integrating this understanding into the process of addressing global risks is vital. Yet this is where the World Economic Forum’s timely thrust to address global risks seems to be somewhat lacking. Science and technology are certainly well-repented on the Davos agenda.  But I get the sense that they are part of the alternative program – “the entertainment” as one colleague described them.  This is probably a little harsh.  But the science and technology sessions do tend to be aimed at wowing delegates, rather than engaging them in exploring integrated solutions to pressing problems – a bit of

Continue Reading →

It’s that time of year again – 2000+ of the worlds top movers and shakers are beginning to descend on the Swiss ski town of Davos for this year’s Annual World Economic Forum meeting.  Political heavyweights like Clinton, Annan, Sarkozy and Cameron will be intermingling with the likes of Gates, Bono,  deNiro, Carreras and a plethora of CEO’s and others as they evaluate the state of the world, and plan for the future. And amidst them will be a whole bunch of people who don’t live on such an ethereal plane – people like me. This year’s meeting is on the theme “Shared Norms for the New Reality” – reflecting, according to WEF, the foremost concern of many leaders that we are living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values that undermines public trust in leadership as well as future economic growth and political stability. To address this theme, the meeting is built around four “pillars”:

Continue Reading →

“Technology doesn’t just happen” – people must be sick of hearing me say this.  Yet as chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies, it’s something I seem to end up saying rather a lot as we strive to help decision-leaders maximize the benefits of technology innovation, while avoiding untoward consequences. The trouble is, it’s all too easy for people to assume that technology innovation will provide bolt-on answers to pressing problems as and when they are needed – a potentially dangerous misconception.  Which is why the Council has just published a new paper through the World Economic Forum that looks at how we develop and use technology within an increasingly complex and interconnected society, and how we can translate this into developing timely, cost effective and acceptable solutions to pressing global challenges. Building a Sustainable Future: Rethinking the Role of Technology Innovation in an Increasingly Interdependent, Complex and Resource-constrained World is co-authored by myself and Tim Harper – director of CIENTIFICA Ltd. – and takes a hard look at the increasingly tough task of ensuring technology innovation helps solve the problems we need it to solve as a society, rather than just the ones that are easy to solve.

Continue Reading →

Getting an unbiased perspective on nanotechnology is probably as close to impossible as you can get.  Governments invest in nanotech because they believe in its ability to inspire new research and stimulate economies and social change.  Corporations invest in nanotech because they think it will give them an edge in a hyper-competitive world.  Neither is likely to tell you that nanotechnology is not a good thing, without having very strong reasons to do so.  And NGO’s?  Non Government Organizations come in so many flavors that about the only generality that can be made is that they exist for a purpose – and that purpose is rarely based on an unbiased world-view. One of the more vocal NGO’s in the nanotechnology arena has been the Canadian-based ETC Group.

Continue Reading →

In an interconnected world, global issues demand integrative solutions.  It’s a statement that many people would agree with – in systems where associations between cause and effect are complex, you ignore synergistic inter-relationships between factors at your peril. But when it comes to technology innovation, it seems that the rules don’t apply. This week I am at the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils meeting in Dubai – I’m chairing the Council on Emerging Technologies.   Our task is deceptively simple: How do we as a society ensure emerging technologies support responsive, sustainable and resilient solutions to global issues, without them leading to new problems? But as we are learning, finding answers is not easy.  And the first hurdle we face is convincing people of the need to think holistically about emerging technologies. It seems that all too often, for all the talk of integrative solutions to global issues, when it comes to technology innovation integration is the last thing on people’s minds. I was forcibly reminded of the uphill struggle we face this afternoon, listening to BBC World News presenter Nik Gowing. 

Continue Reading →

Dan Sarewitz has a rather provocative commentary in Nature this morning, where he suggests that proposals to increase basic research may be good politics, but questionable policy. The headline alone is probably enough to get some science-advocates’ blood boiling, whether they go on to read the piece or not: “Double trouble? To throw cash at science is a mistake” does nothing if not throw down the gauntlet to an already sensitive science community. Beyond the provoking banner, Dan raises  serious if uncomfortable issues – there must come a point where investment in science is balanced within a much broader social context, and the consequences of not allocating funds elsewhere are weighed against the benefits of supporting research – especially blue skies research.  But reading the piece reminded me of an associated debate which seems to get rather less air time – the personal responsibility that comes with government research funding. It’s an inescapable fact that, for every dollar, pound or Euro that governments invest in research, someone, somewhere is getting less money to spend on what they think is important.  In some cases, re-allocations may have minor social consequences.  In others, reduced spending elsewhere in favor of science may be profound impacts on the lives of individuals – especially those at the margins of society.

Continue Reading →

Back in the mists of time, I was approached with a crazy proposition – would I help co-edit a book on nanotechnologies regulation!  In a moment of weakness I said yes, and a little more than two and a half years later, the book is finally about to hit the shelves. I actually think the resulting International Handbook on Regulating Nanotechnologies rather a useful, coherent and engaging collection of chapters – my co-editors Di Bowman and Graeme Hodge did a wonderful job encouraging a bunch of top thinkers in the field to write under occasionally whimsical but always relevant titles. To whet your appetite prior to the book’s release sometime in November, here’s a sneak peak at the contents:

Continue Reading →

In February 2008, the National Academy of Engineering launched 14 grand challenges for engineering.  These were the inspiration for this post, but rather than focus on the challenges themselves, I thought it would be interesting to consider how science and technology are going to help address them.  Over two years on, the ideas I was writing about here seem more relevant than ever – as I write this, I am putting the finishing touches to a World Economic Forum report that echoes many of the challenges I outlined back in March 2008. Originally posted March 6 2008 Can current approaches to doing science sustain us over the next one hundred years?  An increasing reliance on technological fixes to global challenges — including nanotechnology — demands a radical rethink of how we use science in the service of society. Over the next century we will perhaps be facing the greatest challenge in the history of humanity: sustaining six billion plus people on a planet where natural resources are running scarce and our every action results in a palpable environmental reaction.  Progress towards sustainability will only come through integrating relevant science with socially-responsible decision making.  Yet the science policy dogmas of the 20th century may be stretched to breaking point in the face of 21st century challenges. And these challenges are immense. The U.S. National Academy of Engineering recently published 14 “grand challenges for engineering” — the culmination of a year-long project exploring and reviewing the greatest technological challenges facing us in the 21st century.  At the top of the list is development of economical solar energy and fusion-energy, followed by crafting carbon sequestration methods, improving access to clean water, creating improved medicines, preventing nuclear terror, and eight other pressing needs.  The challenges are a stark reminder of the limitations of our

Continue Reading →

The global financial crisis of 2008-09 laid bare the inadequacies of global systems in an increasingly interdependent world, and highlighted the need to rethink the “architecture of global cooperation” – the idea at the core of the World Economic Forum Global Redesign Initiative.  As the World Economic Forum publishes and discusses the outcomes of this intensive twelve month initiative, the critical need for up-front and integrated investment in sustainable technology innovation cannot afford to be overlooked. If anyone is still in doubt that sustainable technology innovation depends on up-front investment in responsible development, just take a look at the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.  With strategic investment in planning for plausible outcomes, the unfolding environmental and human disaster could have been avoided, or at least substantially reduced.  Yet the failure to plan for the future and invest in technologies and strategies that would underpin safe and sustainable operations is indicative of a naive mindset within corporate and policy circles – that when problems occur, science and technology will deliver timely and effective solutions. 

Continue Reading →

Catching up with my email after a long day off the net, I see that a group of Non Government Organizations (NGOs) are urging EPA not to allow the use of an alleged nanotechnology-based dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico.  The letter from thirteen organizations was covered in a piece by Andrew Schneider on AOL Online earlier today – which had considerable pickup on the web from what I can tell. Sadly, a combination of limited information from the company – Green Earth Technologies – and poor understanding by others – seems to have led to the situation being dominated by misunderstanding and misinformation.

Continue Reading →
ABOUT
 

2020 Science is the personal blog of Andrew Maynard - Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. More ... 

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites

CONNECT
 

TWITTER: @2020science

YOUTUBE: Risk Bites

FACEBOOK: 2020 Science

LINKEDIN: ANDREW MAYNARD

EMAIL: maynarda@umich.edu

FOLLOW ON TWITTER
Follow me on Twitter
SUBSCRIBE TO WEBSITE

Please enter your email address to receive notifications of new 2020 Science posts by email.

Join 34 other subscribers

LATEST POSTS
MORE FROM 2020 SCIENCE
 

2020 SCIENCE ARCHIVE

ABOUT