Scientific knowledge, and the “pay to play” culture

January 7, 2009

Here’s a bit of trivia to brighten your day:  Between 2000 and 2007, Chinese scientists published roughly one nanotoxicology paper for every ten million people in the country.  In contrast, US scientists published twenty-five nanotoxicology papers for every ten million citizens. I know this because I have just read a fascinating ...

Five more good books

December 31, 2008

Science gone right, science gone wrong, science gone social, science gone political—it’s all here in five off-beat book recommendations to kick off 2009.  Ranging from Darwin’s Origin of Species to Sir Terry Pratchett’s Nation, the one thing I think I can guarantee is that you will struggle to find an ...

Biohacking—synthetic biology for the technologically marginalized

December 26, 2008

Last June I wrote a short piece on biohacking, prompted by a UK report on the social and ethical challenges of synthetic biology.  At the time, I though the aspirations of the nascent biopunk community naively optimistic, but potentially worrying.  Six months on, biohacking is hitting the mainstream press—and gaining ...

A "manifesto" for socially-relevant science and technology

December 24, 2008

In 2003, Harvard University’s Sheila Jasanoff wrote about what she termed “Technologies of Humility.” Recognizing the growing disconnect between technological progress and its effective governance, Jasanoff explored new approaches to decision-making that “seek to integrate the ‘can-do’ orientation of science and engineering with the ‘should-do’ questions of ethical and political ...

Obama – staking out a science and technology presidency

December 20, 2008

John Holdren is confirmed as the next Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Barack Obama is serious about science and technology.  It was clear in the campaign; clear in the President-Elect’s policies, and doubly clear in the speed with which he has established scientific leadership for the incoming administration. Today’s ...

Saints or synners?

December 17, 2008

Policy, public perceptions, and the opportunities and challenges of synthetic biology Synthetic biology—a supreme expression of scientific hubris, or the solution to all our problems? Like everything in life, I suspect that the answer to the question is far from black and white.  Yet what is clear is that this emerging science ...

Emerging science and technology at 700 characters per day – how was it for you?

December 13, 2008

The pains and pleasures of tweeting science and technology innovation, 140 characters at a time. Five days, 539 words and 3,447 characters later, the Twitter experiment is over. Did I succeed in communicating on emerging science and technology in 700 characters a day?  I’m not sure.  The whole exercise was harder ...

Tough love for science and technology innovation

December 10, 2008

The National Research Council of the National Academies releases its review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research.  And it’s not pretty. Most people acknowledge that innovation is vital to economic and social prosperity.  But what do you do when science and technology innovation are ...

Emerging science and technology at 700 characters per day

December 6, 2008

Getting serious with Twitter I’m gutted.  I thought that blogging was where it is at—the cutting edge of the “new media” wave transforming modern communication.  But I now discover that I’m at least four years behind the times—a veritable dinosaur in the world of “Web 2.0!” Which is why I’m pushing ...

Indecent exposure

December 1, 2008

Navigating the minefield of airborne nanoparticle exposure Nanotechnology—like other emerging technologies—presents a dilemma:  If you’re making new substances with uncertain health risks, how low is low enough when it comes to managing exposure? The issue is raised in the current edition of Nature Nanotechnology by Vladimir Murashov of the National Institute for ...

Carbon nanotubes rock—literally!

November 26, 2008

I’m sitting at my computer watching a surreal balletic movie—a sheet of highly aligned carbon nanotubes is being slowly stretched, then allowed to slowly contract.  In the background is a soundtrack of traditional-sounding Chinese music. At least I think the soundtrack is over-dubbed, until I realize that the music is coming ...

Nanotechnology and the G20 emergency summit

November 15, 2008

As world leaders congregate in Washington DC this weekend for the G20 summit on the global financial crisis, discussions will be informed in part by what has been described as the “biggest brainstorming on the global agenda that has ever taken place.”  I mention this because a small but nevertheless ...

Synthetic biology: Lessons from synthetic chemistry

November 13, 2008

Looking back to chart a course to the future This coming lunchtime*, former New York Times columnist Denise Caruso will discuss the promise and pit-falls of synthetic biology with Center for American Progress senior fellow and former Washington Post science reporter Rick Weiss.  Given the track record of both participants, I’m ...

Taking a fresh look at nanomaterials

November 11, 2008

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution report on Novel Materials Imagine for one naïve moment that we have a pretty good handle on managing the environmental impact of existing manufactured “stuff”.  Then someone comes along and invents some “new stuff” that behaves very differently from the “old stuff.” How can we be ...

Science under an Obama Administration

November 11, 2008

Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse on his hopes for the future Amidst intensifying discussions over what the incoming Obama administration will mean for science and technology, an opinion piece in today’s Telegraph caught my eye this morning.  Written by Sir Paul Nurse—Nobel Laureate and president of the Rockefeller University in New ...

Why clever people believe stupid things

November 9, 2008

Making sense of scientific information While I was in the UK recently, I picked up a copy of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science on a tip from a friend.  Ben is a medical doctor and writer for The Guardian newspaper—and a vociferous crusader of what he sees as the misuse and ...

Nanotechnology and cosmetics

November 6, 2008

UK Consumer Organization Which? Releases New Report Who needs an emerging technologies blog when you have The Daily Mail?  For those of you that missed it, Wednesday’s on-line issue of the British tabloid newspaper highlighted “The beauty creams with nanoparticles that could poison your body” I’m so glad someone’s tracking this issue, ...

Five good books

November 5, 2008

Obama and science – Essential bed-time reading for the next Administration Finally, the campaigning is over, everyone knows more about fruit flies than they ever wanted to (thank you Sarah Palin), and on an historic day America has “voted for change.”  As the country looks forward to a radical change in ...

Resolving the carbon nanotube identity crisis

October 31, 2008

Twelve months ago today I held a bag of multi-walled carbon nanotubes up before a hearing of the U.S. House Science Committee.  I wanted to emphasize the discrepancy between the current state of the science on carbon nanotubes, and a tendency to classify this substance as the relatively benign material ...

Five slightly harder pieces—underpinning sound science policy

October 26, 2008

With just over a week to go before the 2008 US presidential election, there’s no shortage of opinions floating around on the key science and technology-related challenges facing an incoming Obama or McCain administration.  But while advice swirls around issues like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, the environment, and establishing a top-level ...