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December 8th, 2007
This month's column is by Jessica Margolin, CRN's new Director of Research Communities...
Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television. Note that this pattern encompasses attitudes and behavior, bridging and bonding social capital, public and private connections. Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.
The above quote is taken from Robert Putnam's lecture, "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century" . It precedes a very thorough analysis of the shortcomings of the work he presents.
I am motivated to build resilient, supportive environments, and because this requires helping others to "overcome the turtle in all of us," it's important to understand intellectually that eventually diversity is protective: you might be able to manage risk by being private or secretive, but you manage uncertainty by listening to as many voices as possible.
My BA is from UC Berkeley in physics, and my MS focused on nanotechnology research. I left scientific research years ago for many reasons, but I'm well familiar with the degree of intellectual rigor that's required to do solid, unbiased research. I know what it is to learn; and I know what it is to teach. As I get older, I know what it is to have to make decisions with incomplete knowledge and am aware that while some things are unknown because no one asked the question, other things are unknown because they're presently unknowable.
Most scenario projections of science or technology and how it impels social change fall into this particular category of "unknowable." There are many, many different ways of dealing with the feelings that arise when important things are unknowable, and that's a specific kind of diversity that can feel threatening but in fact creates resilience and strength in the face of uncertainty.
So, whether you believe "nano" is a natural progression from "micro" and that any breakthrough discoveries are within the realm of how scientific process works, or you believe that there are fundamental reasons why nanotechnology will be profoundly disruptive -- or you have different ideas altogether -- I hope you will choose to be a member of the scientific and social community surrounding nanotechnological research and policy, particularly here at CRN.
PRACTICAL STUFF ABOUT COMMUNITIES
I do some of my work in community building, in both real space and online, and I subscribe to four tenets:
CRN has a new Yahoo discussion group, "CRNtalk" -- come join us!  Bring your questions, your observations, those news stories that bother you. Our hope is that this community will help would-be interns find internships, students find mentors, and people find other friends with like interests.
In the future, we'll be expanding and developing beyond the Yahoo group. If you want to help, whether with scientific writing or community building, let me know at jmargolin [at] crnano [dot] org