A Little Nanotechnology Discipline, Please!

Mainstream media often makes a hash out of reporting nanotechnology.

The latest on the long list of how perfectly respectable journalists typically turn in the most misleading copy on nanotechnology comes from the International Herald Tribune (IHT).

In the very first sentence we get: “the world of nanotechnology involves shrinking things down to a whole new level ie [sic] where things are a billion times smaller than the world of meters that we live in.”

Of course, you can imagine a reader of this thinking that nanotechnology involves “shrinking things down” not unlike the 1960s movie “Fantastic Voyage” to where white blood cells attack your miniaturized submarine.

And what does it mean: “a billion times smaller than the world we live in.”? Cells, molecules, atoms and subatomic particles all inhabit the world we live in.

But if that was bad, the next paragraph loses all connections to any kind of rational thought: “But, at present, we cannot really think about basic concepts like width, breadth, depth and height or even bigger problems like poverty and global warming on a scale which is 1,000 times smaller than a fly’s eye – they all lose meaning on the nanoscale.”

I am simply dumbfounded. Even when I can’t understand what they have written I can guess at what they might be thinking. But this really stretches me to the limits of my imagination.

As depressing as this is, I have become inured over the years to reading some pretty rough stuff from journalists when it comes to nanotechnology. But what really sent me over the edge on this one was the rather irresponsible manner in which the expert, Dr Abdul Qadeer from the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, presents the future of nanotechnology.

“In the future, there is a possibility to make nanorobots,” Qadeer is quoted as saying in the IHT piece. “These can be injected into our bodies to carry out repairs.”

Is it any wonder then that the journalist starts his piece with the idea of “shrinking things” straight from Fantastic Voyage imagery?

It’s one thing for journalists not to do their homework on an assignment, but it’s quite another when the experts advising them lead them astray.

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
Editor
Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
Contributor
Rachel Courtland
Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
New York, NY
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