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					Value Judgments, Ethics, and
    LCA of Nanomaterials

         Kevin C. Elliott
    Department of Philosophy
   University of South Carolina
• Value Judgments and LCA

• Considering Burdens of Proof

• Contributing to Broader Deliberations
              Value Judgments
• I am using the term „value judgments‟ fairly broadly, to
  refer to decisions that involve weighing the importance of
  multiple considerations in the absence of decisive rules
  or algorithms
   – Science is full of such decisions: choosing research
     projects and methodologies, characterizing and
     evaluating the quality of data, interpreting results,
     weighing multiple bodies of evidence

• The considerations, or “values,” that influence these
  judgments don‟t always have to be ethical or social, but I
  will be focusing on judgments that do have ethical or
  social ramifications
            Value Judgments
• Some of the value judgments associated with
  LCA are relatively obvious:
  – Deciding to pursue a consequential or an attributional
  – Choosing the functional unit and the system
  – Determining categories of environmental impacts to
  – Deciding, if making a recommendation, how to weigh
    the importance of different environmental impacts
            Value Judgments
• I want to highlight some more subtle value
  judgments that arise especially when making
  recommendations for future research that can
  inform LCA of nanomaterials:
  – How should we prioritize materials (or manufacturing
    processes, etc.) to study? Should we focus on those
    that are likely to be used most widely? Or should we
    focus on those that seem likely to have the greatest
    environmental impact? Or should we emphasize
    those that are easiest to study (and perhaps to yield
    generalizable data)?
             Value Judgments
• Some other decisions:
  – Do we call for studies of highly purified, homogeneous
    materials, or rather mixtures of materials that might be
    more relevant to predicting effects from waste streams?
  – What principles should guide the choice of biological
    models? Should we aim especially for ecological
    relevance? Or should we place more emphasis on
    simpler and better understood model organisms?
  – What sorts of human and environmental effects should
    we prioritize? For example, how high a priority are
    developmental and reproductive effects, versus
    information about acute toxicity?
Images from: http://focusonnature.be/keywords/water?page=1; http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/op/cor/rec/fishing.htm;
http://www.mblaquaculture.com/content/organisms/daphnids.php; http://mysciencefairproject.net/About_Me.php
                Burdens of Proof
• In situations of particularly serious uncertainty, deciding
  where to place the burden of proof (and what level of
  evidence is needed to overcome that burden) becomes
  especially significant
   – Should decision makers start with the presumption that particular
     classes of nanomaterials are more, less, or equally
     environmentally friendly in comparison with current products?
   – Are there “streamlined” approaches to LCA that could provide
     adequate information in the near future?

• These decisions are laden with ethical and social
  judgments (e.g., about how much we would like to
  discontinue current practices or how much we value the
  services that new nanoproducts could offer)
         Broader Deliberations
• Many contributors to the social and
  ethical literature on nanotechnology
  regard this as a unique opportunity to
  introduce new technologies in a more
  transparent, socially responsive
• The recent National Citizens‟
  Technology Forum (NCTF) provides a
  good example of these efforts
        Broader Deliberations
• An overview of the NCTF:
  – Consisted of 6 groups located around the country,
    including a total of 74 individuals
  – Each group met face-to-face for two days at the
    beginning and at the end of the process
  – They received background reading materials
  – All 74 individuals interacted online 10 times over the
    course of a month and had the opportunity to develop
    questions for experts, who joined some of the
  – Each group developed a final report with
          Broader Deliberations
• Many commentators have argued that these deliberative
  exercises should address more specific issues that are
  relevant at present
• I think that it is worth considering whether there are
  social issues associated with LCA that merit inclusion in
  such venues
   – For example, considering what to think about nanotechnologies
     that could replace valuable materials from developing countries
   – Or, perhaps, considering how to weigh the importance of various
     categories of environmental impacts
   – Or considering how to frame the burden of proof for shifting to
     new nanoproducts
• I encourage reflection on three issues:
  – Attention to value judgments, especially those that
    arise when we call for particular sorts of future

  – Burdens of proof and standards of evidence when
    responding to uncertainty

  – Subjects that merit broader deliberation, such as
    social consequences of adopting particular

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