, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 185–193

Nanoethics—A Collaboration Across Disciplines

  • Anna Julie Rasmussen
  • Mette Ebbesen
  • Svend Andersen
Original Paper


The field of nanoscience and nanotechnology is expanding rapidly, promising great benefits for society in the form of better medicine, more efficient energy production, new types of materials, etc. Naturally, in order for the science and technology to live up to these promises, it is important to continue scientific research and development, but equally important is the ethical dimension. Giving attention to the social, ethical and legal aspects of the field, among others, will help in developing a fully responsible—and thereby capable—science and technology. Nanoethics has emerged as a field concerned with such ethical issues related to nanoscience and nanotechnology. Even though this field is relatively new, a significant amount of literature has already been published. This paper focuses on three of the major issues which are discussed in the literature of nanoethics, and also points to a certain bias in this literature. Each quite different in nature, these issues are: (1) The naming and (2) the timing of and approach to the field, as well as (3) the issue of safety. As will be seen, these issues are almost exclusively discussed by ethicists, (throughout the article, the term’ethicist’ is used in a broad definition covering philosophers, social and political scientists as well as philosophers of science) thus having no direct influence on the work being carried out by scientists. One can argue, therefore, that this bias creates a distortion of the ethical debate, making it insufficient and misleading. Ultimately, this bias is caused by the lack of communication and collaboration between ethicists on the one hand, and nanoscientists on the other. Thus, an argument is made for the different disciplines to begin collaborating, so as to more effectively and responsibly develop the field of nanoscience.


Nanotechnology Nanoscience Ethics Collaboration Communication Nanoethics 


  1. 1.
    Gaskell G, Stares S, Allansdottir A, Allum N, Castro P, Esmer Y, Fischler C, Jackson J, Kronberger N, Hampel J, Mejlgaard N, Quintanilha A, Rammer A, Revuelta G, Stoneman P, Torgersen H, Wagner W (2010) Europeans and biotechnology—winds of change? European Commission Directorate-General for Research Communication UnitGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hartsell L, Weckert J, Pogge T (2011) Nanoscience, ethics and progress. The poor and advanced technologies. 2011 International Conference on Nanoscience, Technology and Societal Implications.
  3. 3.
    Jamison A (2009) Can nanotechnology be just? On nanotechnology and the emerging movement for global justice. NanoEthics 3:129–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ebbesen M (2009) The principle of justice and access to nanomedicine in national healthcare systems. Stud Ethics Law Technol 3(3):Article 5Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ferrari A (2010) Developments in the debate on nanoethics: traditional approaches and the need for a new kind of analysis. NanoEthics 4:27–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brownsword R (2009) Nanoethics: old wine, new bottles? J Consum Policy 32:355–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Meetoo D (2009) Nanotechnology: is there a need for ethical principles? Br J Nurs 18(20):1264–1268Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Godman M (2008) But is it unique to nanotechnology? Sci Eng Ethics 14:391–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Allhoff F, Lin P (2006) What’s so special about nanotechnology and nanoethics? Int J Appl Philos 20(2):179–190Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    McGinn RE (2010) What’s different, ethically, about nanotechnology?: Foundational questions and answers. NanoEthics 4:115–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kagawa C (2009) Neuroethics and bioethics—implications of balkanization controversy. Brain Nerve 61(1):11–17Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    van de Poel I (2008) How should we do nanoethics? A network approach for discerning ethical issues in nanotechnology. NanoEthics 2:25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Allhoff F (2007) On the autonomy and justification of nanoethics. NanoEthics 1(3):185–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Weil V (2003) Zeroing in on ethical issues in nanotechnology. Proc IEEE 91(11):1976–1979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Grunwald A (2010) From speculative nanoethics to explorative philosophy of nanotechnology. NanoEthics 4:91–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ebbesen M, Andersen S, Besenbacher F (2006) Ethics in nanotechnology: starting from scratch? Bull Sci Technol Soc 26(6):451–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Lin P (2007) In defense of nanoethics: a reply to Adam Keiper.—the ethics and societal impact of nanotechnology, (30-08-2011)
  18. 18.
    Mnyuisiwalla A, Daar AS, Singer PA (2003) Mind the gap: science and ethics in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology 14:R9–R13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Roache R (2008) Ethics, speculation, and values. NanoEthics 2:317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Nordmann A, Rip A (2009) Mind the gap revisited. Nat Nanotechnol 4:273–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Keiper A (2007) Nanoethics as a discipline? The New Atlantis (Spring):55–67Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Nordmann A (2007) If and then: a critique of speculative nanoethics. NanoEthics 1:31–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Marchant GE, Sylvester DJ, Abbott KW (2008) Risk management principles for nanotechnology. NanoEthics 2:48–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (1992) The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
  25. 25.
    Koepsell D (2010) On genies and bottles: scientists’ moral responsibility and dangerous R&D. Sci Eng Ethics 16:119–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Kuzma J, Besley JC (2008) Ethics of risk analysis and regulatory review: from bio- to nanotechnology. NanoEthics 2:149–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Costa HS, SetheS PAP, Olsson IAS (2011) Scientists’ perception of ethical issues in nanomedicine: a case study. Nanomedicine 6(4):681–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Wolpe PR (2006) Reasons scientists avoid thinking about ethics. Cell 125:1023–1025CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Sparrow R (2008) Talkin’ ‘bout a (nanotechnological) revolution. Technol Soc Mag IEEE 27(2):37–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Legge JS, Durant RF (2010) Public opinion, risk assessment, and biotechnology: lessons from attitudes toward genetically modified foods in the European Union. Rev Policy Res 27(1):59–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Bonny S (2003) Why are most Europeans opposed to GMOs? Factors explaining rejection in France and Europe. Electron J Biotechnol 6(1):50–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    McGinn R (2010) Ethical responsibilities of nanotechnology researchers: a short guide. NanoEthics 4:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Dubochet J (2008) Citizen biologists. The Lausanne experience. EMBO Rep 9(1):5–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Dubochet J (2009) Genomics for citizens. EMBO Rep 10(10):1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Rip A (2006) Aco-evolutionary approach to reflexive governance—and its ironies. In: Voss J, Bauknecht D, Kemp R (eds) Reflexive governance for sustainable development. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp 82–100Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Fisher E (2007) Ethnographic invention: probing the capacity of laboratory decisions. NanoEthics 1:155–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Schuurbiers D, Fisher E (2009) Lab-scale intervention. EMBO Rep 10(5):424–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Fisher E, Mahajan R (2006) Midstream modulation of nanotechnology in an academic laboratory. In Proceedings of IMECE2006: American Society of Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, November 5–10. Chicago, IL, USA: ASMEGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Webster A (2007) Crossing boundaries: social science in the policy room. Sci Technol Hum Values 32:458–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Julie Rasmussen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Mette Ebbesen
    • 1
  • Svend Andersen
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Bioethics and NanoethicsAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Interdisciplinary Nanoscience CentreAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  3. 3.Centre for Bioethics and Nanoethics, Faculty of ArtsAarhus UniversityAarhus CDenmark

Personalised recommendations