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ELSA-Etiske,rettslige og samf.m. as

Integrating Ecotoxicology and Ethics for Responsible Ecological Governance: The Case of Nanoparticles for Environmental Remediation

Tildelt: kr 3,0 mill.

The NanoEcotoxEthics project was an integrated research project funded by the ELSA program of the Norwegian Research Council. As such, it was a part of a Research Council effort to advance responsible research, innovation and technology development throug h having scholars from the social sciences and humanities work in an integrated way together with natural scientists, engineers and technology developers to identify and address ethical, legal and social aspects of their work. An underlying assumption of this approach is that sponsoring such collaborations can develop more reflective and responsible scientists, able to consider social and ethical implications of their work, and enable the redirection of research and development to achieve more sociall y robust and environmentally sustainable innovation. The integrated project NanoEcotoxEthics, now completed after 3.5 years of work, examined ethical aspects of ecotoxicology research on bio- and nano-technologies. Ecotoxicology is a scientific field t hat seeks to understand the potential for new chemicals and technologies to harm the environment. As such, it creates the scientific knowledge base used to inform regulatory decision-making on the environmental impact of emerging, and often controversial technologies like bio- and nano-technologies. Given the role that ecotoxicology plays in the environmental regulation of new and emerging technologies, the NanoEcotoxEthics project was interested in the ethical issues that arose and were encountered by ecotoxicologists, and how these could be handled in practice. Through the project, Dr Fern Wickson worked together with three different ecotoxicology laboratories (in Tromsø, Oslo and Copenhagen) to explore social and ethical aspects of this field of sci ence. Working with ecotoxicologists in these three different laboratories (one working on biotechnology and two on nanotechnology) revealed that although most scientists arguably do not lack the capability to reflect on social and ethical dimensions of their work, they do often lack time dedicated to such considerations. One effect of this project was therefore to open a space for collaborative ethical reflection. Through this practice and the projects research, it became clear that the research choi ces of ecotoxicologists are often highly constrained in practice and that this often raises ethical issues. For example, ecotoxicologists working in biotechnology were found to be severely limited in their access to test materials. Genetically modifie d plants, for example, are often the patented property of corporations. Lacking connections to corporate interests, the ecotoxicologists involved in this project saw their research as in the public interest, yet could not legally gain access to many of th e materials they wanted to test and that are seeking approval in European markets. This was one of their major ethical issues revealed and one of the most significant challenges to responsible innovation in this area. However, as scientific researchers, t he ecotoxicologists had little power to address this issue themselves. For those working with nanotechnologies, one of the largest ethical challenges identified was that many of the current standard tests bear little relation to how nanomaterials migh t behave in real-world environments. Efforts are underway to improve the standards and tests in this field, but participating in the work of standardization organisations such as the ISO or OECD requires the money to attend meetings held in ever-changing international locations, and the time to keep up with the constant stream of communication over the years or decades it takes to develop an internationally recognized standard. Very few publicly funded scientists have the necessary resources to do thi s, which means that industry interests can come to dominate the process and the results typically reflect political compromise more than scientific consensus. Even so, policy-makers often uncritically adopt such international standards as a proxy for scie ntific quality and ecotoxicologists wanting their work to impact regulation then feel obligated to use them. The model for integrated projects assumes that if problems are identified in the laboratory, work can be steered in more desirable directions. However, research in the NanoEcotoxEthics project found that this puts too much weight on the agency of researchers, and too little on the broader socio-economic and political forces shaping what they do. The project found that scientific knowledge of th e potential for environmental harm from emerging technologies is seriously restricted by intellectual property regimes, international standards bodies and powerful economic interests. To achieve responsible research and innovation, work therefore needs to extend out beyond public scientific laboratories to include the broader range of actors and institutional spaces shaping science and the complex ecolog

The fundamental question framing the issues of interest in this research project is: What does it mean to benefit/harm the environment? To address this question the project adopts an integrative approach in which social and natural scientists collaborati vely work to understanding the environmental impact of emerging nanotechnologies. Specifically, the project aims to combine the philosophy of environmental ethics with the science of ecotoxicology to address the lack of interdisciplinary activity between these fields and stimulate mutual reflection and co-production. The specific research questions to be investigated through the project are: 1. How can benefit/harm to the environment be variously framed and understood? 2. How is scientific knowledge on e nvironmental impacts generated, interpreted and used? 3. How are these issues of science and ethics entangled in practice? 4. What does this entanglement imply for the development of socially robust science? 5. What does this entanglement imply for respon sible environmental governance? All of these research questions will be explored in relation to the concrete technological case study of the use of nanoparticles for environmental remediation and specifically, the use of zero valent iron and bimetallic na noparticles. This project contains five interconnected workpackages. These are: 1. Environmental Ethics - Surveying Perspectives 2. Ecotoxicology - Developing Robust Science for Policy 3. Public Engagement - Trialling The Ecological Dialogues 4. Quality Evaluation - Assessing Transdisciplinary Research 5. Policy Implications - Advancing Responsible Ecological Governance The main deliverables of this project include 9 academic research papers submitted to international peer-reviewed journals, 3 popular press scientific chronicles and one policy brief. Furthermore, three public engagement exercises, 2 project walkshops and 1 interactive stakeholder workshop will also be arranged.


ELSA-Etiske,rettslige og samf.m. as