Brussels, 18 October 2006
The Ethics Committee of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has published an opinion including eight recommendations on the ethical implications of nanosciences and nanotechnologies.
The eight recommendations include launching a debate with scientists, policy makers and the public, raising researcher awareness of the ethical dimension of their work, and creating mini guides on the ethical implications of nanosciences.
According to the Committee (COMETS), the potential of nanoscience in a wide range of fields, from energy and the environment to textiles and medicine, means that their development should be examined in terms of risk and safety - the possible social impact cannot be ignored by researchers and organisations promoting nanotechnologies.
The objective of the recommendations is not so much to develop ethically correct research, with a series of norms and interdicts, but on the contrary, to develop ethical vigilance through a series of measures aimed at encouraging ethical thinking on the values, the means and the ends of scientific research.
COMETS believes in the 'responsible development' of nanotechnology, and would like to help its researchers and partners strike a balance between the freedom to research and research's responsibility towards society.
The Committee also finds that many researchers are still unaware of the ethical implications of their work and so would like to raise their awareness of these issues through debate and education.
For these reasons, COMETS has formulated the following eight recommendations:
1. Launch a debate among all stakeholders interested by the development of a research programme: scientists, policy makers and the public.
2. Educate scientists on the ethics of their research at several levels of their careers.
3. Create mini guides on ethics for researchers based on recent studies.
4. Open 'ethics spaces' in research centres, where researchers, engineers and technicians can engage in debate with researchers from the human and social sciences.
5. Stimulate the interest of humanities and social scientists in nanosciences and nanotechnologies.
6a. Set up procedures in case of conflicts of interests with industry;
6b. Ensure transparency with regards to sources of funding and, if possible, of the results of joint projects between the CNRS and industry.
7. In public relations:
- present the expected opportunities of nanosciences and nanotechnologies without hiding the potential risks;
- highlight the benefits to society, the reasons for prioritising nanosciences and, if possible, not limit these to economic and industrial benefits only;
- dare to take into account the long term implications of nanosciences.
8. Set up bodies where dialogue and citizen debates can take place at local, national, European and international level.
COMETS is a consultative body composed of 12 members; researchers and engineers in various fields and members of the board of directors of the CNRS. Started in 1994, the Committee develops thinking on the ethical aspects brought to light by research, makes recommendations and seeks to educate scientists.