Calibrating the balance: The ethics of regulating the production and use of nanotechnology applications

In G. Jeswani & M. Van de Voorde (eds.), Handbook of Nanoethics. De Gruyter (2021)
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Nanotechnology (henceforth NT) is a rapidly advancing field with the potential of revolutionizing diverse areas such as electronics, healthcare, transport and energy production. NT products and applications come with (potential) benefits and (potential) harms. The presence of potential harms calls for regulation. Both under- and overregulation – I argue – are morally undesirable. In the case of underregulation, stakeholders fall victim to the harmful effects of the technology. In the case of overregulation, stakeholders are deprived of the benefits of the technology. In this chapter, I identify the biases and factors that lead to under- and overregulation and offer solutions in response. More precisely, I argue that a lack of specific regulation, the presence of conflicts of interest and short-term economic incentives could lead to the underregulation of NT products and applications. Conversely, I argue that a negativity bias, harm aversion, the fear of opening ‘Pandora’s box’ and the intuition that what is natural is good and what is artificial (human-made) is bad could lead to overregulation. To avoid these pitfalls and the woes of under- and overregulation following in their wake, we need to set up a process – which I describe – in which policymakers and independent scientists closely collaborate.

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Michael Vlerick
Tilburg University


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