The International Council on Nanotechnology

Remember, Nano-EHS Researchers are People Too

I need your help. ICON is preparing a modification to our Virtual Journal of Nano-EHS to allow users to rate papers they have read. While our survey on this topic generated an overwhelmingly positive response, we recognize that allowing the community to rate papers that have already passed through peer review is potentially sensitive. We want to make it clear that thoughtful, incisive commentary is welcome and trolls will be banned. Please help by submitting your thoughts on how to construct a useful Comment Guidelines policy that helps raters understand the purpose of the ratings and the "rules" for playing nice in the sandbox. If there are good examples out there relevant to scientific discussions (as opposed to consumer product sites such as Amazon) that would be helpful as well.

Here is my first pass at a Comment Guidelines policy.

Only rate papers you have read. Merely reading the abstract is not enough to evaluate a paper’s merits. ICON provides a link to the paper’s listing in the source journal where you may find it posted in its entirety or can purchase it if you are not a subscriber. We are unable to provide you with copies of papers in the VJ.

Only rate papers you are qualified to assess. This resource allows people with knowledge of nanomaterials, metrology, toxicology, environmental impact, etc. to bring that expertise to bear in evaluating the technical literature. If you are unfamiliar with the subject matter or the methods, don’t rate the paper.

Refrain from rating your own papers. If you are an author, please do not rate your own work. (Or get your mother or cousin or fishing buddy to do so.) You may leave a response to other raters in the comments box, in which case you should identify yourself as an author.
Evaluate each paper on its scientific merits. Well-meaning people can disagree about the attributes of the ideal nano-EHS paper. But well-meaning people do not slam a paper because the author prevailed over them in a proposal competition or turned them down for a post-doc position. If you are pursuing any agenda other than well-intentioned critique of nano-EHS research, do so elsewhere. For guidance on rating papers, please review our Recommended Criteria for Rating Papers in the Virtual Journal.

Use common courtesy and tact. Be professional, especially when submitting a less than flattering review. Remember, nano-EHS researchers are people too. Specific, constructive feedback will be received better than withering criticism. Substantive, well-written comments will earn you a following in the VJ as people seek out trusted experts to help them filter through the literature.

Do not pass yourself off as someone else. You are free to choose a username that obscures your identity but do not choose one that falsely identifies you as another real person or associates you with an organization with which you have no affiliation. Do not misrepresent the sector in which you work.

Do not abuse the comment box. The comment box is not the place to plug your work, promote your blog, sell your product, hurl insults, use profane language, etc. Any comments that are deemed inappropriate can be flagged and will be removed. Offenders will be barred from posting.

NanoEHS: Preaching to the Choir or Missionary Work in Hostile Territory?

I spent most of yesterday in a dimly lit room of Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center, attending the EHS track of the NSTI Nanotech 2009 conference, for which I organized the afternoon session on workplace practices. I have done this kind of thing before for NSTI, having put together a session on Nanotechnology and Society for the 2005 meeting in Anaheim. What a difference four years makes.

Then: Keynotes focused on enormous potential of nanotech to solve societal problems.
Now: Keynote speaker from Bayer Materials Science spent much of his time talking about safety, minimizing exposure and engineering controls before getting to Baytubes.

Then: The EHS session was billed as a special symposium and was a hodgepodge of science, standards, regulation and policy.
Now: The EHS session was a stand-alone track and there were enough submissions to have separate sessions on toxicology, workplace practices and regulatory/policy issues.

Then: This session garnered a smallish crowd.
Now: The room was packed for toxicology and full enough for occupational practices.

Then: The crowd was excited about nanotech's potential but curious about why we needed to discuss "societal" impacts.
Now: The attendees were savvy about the complexity of issues associated with understanding nanomaterials' impacts.

On that last point, I was pleased to hear attendees pressing the toxicology speakers during Q&A to be explicit about what type of nanomaterials were tested, what dose metrics were employed, whether residual metal particles were present, etc. The questions demonstrated a level of sophistication not seen back in 2005 when most people wanted to know: Are these things dangerous or not?

OK so one person asked Val Vallyathan, a NIOSH researcher talking about the nanotube-asbestos comparison, the naive question, "So, are carbon nanotubes 'the next asbestos' or not?" To which he replied, "The current studies are inconclusive. We can't say without systematic studies varying the dose, animal model, etc."

I know there are now whole meetings devoted to nanoEHS research, and that societies such as SOT are offering extended tracks on nanotoxicology. One of my colleagues in the nanoEHS space said that he goes to a lot of these meetings where he feels like he's preaching to the choir. The NSTI meeting has always had a more optimistic, business development, applications orientation where raising safety issues can feel more like missionary work in hostile territory. So seeing the EHS issue penetrate the NSTI meeting to this extent leads me to the conclusion that these communities are finally coming together in a way that bodes well for nanomaterial stewardship.
Back to the meeting!

Article Published on GoodNanoGuide

The Spring Issue of Nanotechnology Law and Business is out now (subscription only) with an article penned by myself and Matthew Jaffe of Crowell & Moring entitled, "The GoodNanoGuide: A Novel Approach for Developing Good Practices for Handling Engineered Nanomaterials in an Occupational Setting." In it we describe the history, structure and purpose of the project. For more information, see this slideshow or join us next week at the NSTI Nanotech 2009 conference.

Five ICON members listed among Top 10 NanoEHS Experts

The Spring Issue of the journal Nanotechnology Law and Business has a listing of its Top Ten Experts in Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues Related to Engineered Nanomaterials (subscription required). These people are described as
ten individuals with substantial expertise in environmental, health and safety issues related to engineered nanomaterials. We expect these individuals to play leading roles in nanotechnology law and business.
I am pleased to report that five out of the ten experts listed participate on ICON's steering or executive committee.
BUILDING A BETTER MOUSETRAP: PATENTING BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITYVicki Colvin (Rice University), Barbara Karn (US EPA), Kristen Kulinowski (me, Rice University), Andrew Maynard (Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies), and Mary Beth Miller (Unidym).
Thanks to all these experts for their contributions to ICON and the wider NanoEHS community. And thanks to Matthew Jaffe for sending this news along.