In a 1998 article about the Reagan-era of space exploration (Business and Economic History, Vol. 27, No. 1) , political scientist W.D. Kay notes that "before government officials can begin to address a public problem, they must first define it." What kind of problem is it? Moreover, problem definition isn't simply a matter of labeling. It also involves how officials conceptualize a problem. Finally, deciding who "owns" the problem in terms of offering a solution to it is part of the policy process.
What do we see if we apply this questions to issues around nanotechnology? What was the "problem" that resulted in in the passage of the NNI in 2000? One could argue, for instance, that it was the future of the electronics and semiconductor industries or levels of funding for the physical sciences. And, today, how has the problem of environmental, health, and safety issues been defined and by whom? Who owns this problem?
Problem definition and problem ownership - two ideas to think about when considering past and current issues around nano-policy.