Monthly Archive for July, 2008

German OTA releases report on policy options for converging technologies

The U.S. Congress may have defunded OTA in 1995, but the German Parliament has an Office of Technology Assessment (TAB) that is still alive and producing reports. The summary of one of their recent studies, on “converging technologies”, has recently been translated into English. The author describes converging technologies this way:

“The last twenty years have been marked by drastic political events and by spectacular scientific and technical breakthroughs (such as in the life sciences) and innovations (such as in the case of the Internet). Just as noteworthy in hindsight, however, is the fact that these years appear as a period in which far-reaching technology visions once again attracted serious attention in parts of the scientific community, among politicians, and in the public. In the current discussions about these visions, which were sparked in fields such as nanotechnology and brain research, both cautioners and optimists predict fundamental changes in society, civilisation, and “human nature”.

The debate about “converging technologies” (CT) has to be seen in this context. It has been driven primarily by research policy actors and by experts from various disciplines, and is part of a more comprehensive political and social discourse on nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communications technology (ICT), brain research, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and the sciences that deal with these topics. “Convergence” is an umbrella term for predictions ranging from an increase in synergetic effects to a merging of these fields, and for demands for government funding of research and development where these fields overlap.

The first CT initiative was started in the United States in 2001 in connection with activities concerning social, legal, and ethical aspects of nanotechnology. The primary participants in this initiative were the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce, and it received the support, for example, of some of those in military research. Some of the features of this initiative, which despite its nonofficial character is often viewed as an official government initiative, triggered some very controversial discussions. The subject was even picked up by some of the mass media, nongovernmental organisations (NGO), and private enterprises. For analytical purposes, we can distinguish between:

  • A debate that started in the United States, bundled various social conflicts concerning science and technology, and focused on “human enhancement”, i.e., the artificial improvement of an individual’s capacities, and on far-reaching visions of the future of humanity;
  • The discussions about CT research policy in a narrower sense and the related scientific and technological activities. Here too the starting point was in the United States, but the main participants driving this field are now located in Europe.”

The entire report (in German) can be found here.
Click here for a brief summary and here for an extended article about this new TAB report posted on

OTA Archive mentioned in Animal Lab News

ALN Magazine | July 30, 2008

Click here to see their post about the OTA Archive.

The Debate over Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone

There’s been a healthy debate in the Ithaca (NY) Journal the past few weeks over a new study published by researchers at Cornell University. The study claims that cows supplemented with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) have less negative environmental impact compared to conventional cows.

The Ithaca Journal wrote an article to coincide with the publication of the study, which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since then, there have been several different letters (one available here) published by the paper debating the merits of rBST use in dairy cows. Yesterday, a guest editorial by the lead author of the study appeared that cites this 1991 OTA report, U.S. Dairy Industry at a Crossroad: Biotechnology and Policy Choices.  This report features an extensive examination of the policy issues surrounding rBST use.

Two videos about OTA discovered

I’ve been doing some browsing through Wikipedia, YouTube and Google Video and have come across two videos about OTA. Both include excellent summaries of OTA’s mission and explain how reports were created. Both also feature cutting edge video and audio effects and plenty of examples of sweet fashion from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Which one is your favorite? Does anyone know who originally posted these videos on Google Video?

OTA on OTA (1983)

Office of Technology Assessment (early 1990s)

OTA Reports Cited by International Media

OTA reports have been cited in two new articles.

The first appears in Le Devoir, a newspaper published in Montreal, Canada. My French-speaking sources tell me it is about computerized tomography (CT) scans and the debate about whether the technique is being overused. OTA published several reports (see here, here, and here) about CT scans in the 1970s and 80s.

The second comes from a blog based in India, and discusses the environmental consequences of medical waste incineration in residential areas. This 1988 OTA Report, Issues in Medical Waste Management, is listed in the references.

Paul Semenza Joins DisplaySearch as Senior Vice President

Press Release | | July 28, 2008

Mr. Semenza served as an analyst for the OTA in the early 1990s. From the press release:

“DisplaySearch, the worldwide leader in display market research and consulting, today announced that it has appointed display industry veteran Paul Semenza as the company’s Senior Vice President managing the North American and European analyst teams.”

Read the entire press release here.