It Cuts Both Ways: American Majority Deems Nanotechnology Immoral
February 23, 2008 1:57 AM
comment(s) - last by
A one thousand-year-old history lesson awaits those who would deem the cutting edge wicked
Damascus steel was forged using a process of carbon doping iron in a smelting and quenching process. This steel became famous almost a thousand years ago; it was said a Damascus sword would cut through falling silk, a rock, and then another piece of silk while still keeping its razor sharp edge.
The ability to make the Damascus steel was lost with the ages. Blademasters would often take the secret of the forging process to the grave rather than reveal its mysteries. Many were persecuted as heretics, others heralded as deities.
A study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that
more than 70% of 1,015 surveyed Americans deem nanotechnology morally repulsive
. Professor Dietram Scheufele attributes this repugnance for technology to American reliance on religion.
It's easy to say that perhaps the 1,000 Americans surveyed are just not that bright. Scheufele disagrees, stating, "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."
Scheufele believes that Americans who disprove of nanotechnology do not want humans "playing God." That is, man manipulating structures of one nanometer, one billionth of a meter, is akin to God manipulating the forces of the universe.
In 2006 German researcher Peter Paufler discovered (with the aid of a sub-nanotechnology, the electron microscope) that a four hundred-year-old Damascus steel sword
gained its incredible properties from carbon nanotube structures within the blade's edge
. Fifteen years earlier NEC created the world's first synthetic nanotube. One year later it was awarded the patent for one of the sharpest materials on earth,
a plasma polished carbon nanotube blade
Science has always bordered on the fence of terrifying and mysterious. Civilization lost the secrets of Damascus steel making when then modern thinkers deemed it a practice of
deus ex hominis.
Attempting to describe the morality of natural phenomena leads to an exercise in natural fallacy. Not once, in the history of mankind, has science ever been proven immoral -- and conversely -- nor has it ever been proven moral either.
Will society deitize nano-researchers as modern day Damascus blademasters, or will it learn to look beyond the meta-ethics of natural phenomena for a change?
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RE: Actually, it doesn't cut at all.
2/23/2008 6:37:06 PM
> I don't think it is stated anywhere in the DT article that the study shows that the religious views is the explanation to the results. To the contrary, it is stated that it is the professor's belief.
Right, and if you read what I wrote, you'll plainly see I was referring to the article cited, not Kris's blog - so we're on the same page there.
> As for the professor's interpretation of the results, he's doing what every scientist is doing after obtaining results.
There's a couple things here to consider. First and foremost, we need to consider that a reporter wrote the source article, and probably wrote it in such a way as to draw readers, thereby taking a degree of liberty in the wording of the article.
Dr. Dietram Scheufele may very well have made his stated conclusions in a very qualified and professional manner, only to have someone else spin them in a different context. Or, maybe he did present the data and the reporter did not think to include it in the article.
However, if this source article is a true characterization of his conclusions, he is demonstrating a degree of irresponsibility by claiming 'exact parallels' (correlation) between two variables - one of which was not even studied - without providing numbers.
> He's drawing some perspectives. Considering he most probably didn't started his career yesterday and with this single survey, he probably has some other elements to derive such conclusions (which are briefly discussed actually).
He's not drawing perspectives. He's drawing conclusions. Conclusions must be supported by data. Claiming an 'exact' parallel without providing any numbers is again, irresponsible.
I'd also like to mention that his background is in communication, whereas the subject matter he's speaking on is more within the realm of sociology.
> You're entitled to disagree with his interpretation but you'll have to enter an expert's discussion with him that would require both of you to provide elements of proof.
Unfortunately, in scientific discovery, the onus of proof is on the person claiming the advancement or discovery. That burden is generally met with data from a controlled (as much as can be expected) experiment.
Dr. Dietram Scheufele has not given the data necessary to substantiate the claim that differences in religion are responsible for or even parallels exactly the disparity in attitudes between Americans and Europeans. His questionnaire doesn't even address this 'conclusion'. The data isn't there. To posit that religion may be one of the possible factors would be fine. And that could very well be what he did before a reporter decided to cherry-pick his words.
As for expert discussion, I'm pretty convinced the article took him out of context, and I wouldn't presume to intrude on his time. However, if push came to shove, I do have a graduate degree in statistics, work for a Fortune 100 company, and spend most of my days telling PhDs and MDs what they can and cannot say based on the data from their experiments.
But let me be clear - I'm not saying he's wrong. I'm saying he has not presented enough evidence to make the claims made in the source article.
RE: Actually, it doesn't cut at all.
2/23/2008 6:51:44 PM
One thing to keep in mind is that Scheufele authored the release that I linked to. At least, it has his name in the byline / contact information. So, at least, those statements were authorized by him.
RE: Actually, it doesn't cut at all.
2/25/2008 2:13:12 PM
I had noticed that he was listed as the contact for the press release and was a bit afraid of that. I stand by my comments, but I do hope that he has data that were neither cited nor presented that can substantiate the claims he made.
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