How To Befuddle a Journalist and His Readers on the Subject of Nanotechnology

I have long taken mainstream journalists to task for their often ham-handed coverage of nanotechnology. Sometimes they can be minor mistakes or in other examples they can be the most flimsy business analysis one could conjure up.

But I think I have discovered a whole new category for this one. I think I will call it the M.C. Escher form of technology reporting. Just when you figure out which way is up it becomes down.

Let me give you an example. The article attempts to differentiate between “evolutionary” nanotechnology and “revolutionary” nanotechnology. Fair enough, I am up for that.

It is explained that the evolutionary variety is really just engineers trying to make chips with smaller and smaller dimensions using the same old photolithography processes that have been in use for years—a top-down approach, if you will.

Now for the revolutionary approach. I expected to hear about molecular manufacturing, and I did. “The barriers to the construction of nanoscale components could disappear when molecular methodologies become more mature,” the reporter explains. “More mature?” Okay, let’s not quibble.

But then it gets all a bit weird. It turns out the “revolutionary” nanotechnology is still at a research stage (begging the question of how something that doesn’t exist becomes more mature) and will largely be based on…wait for it…carbon nanotubes!

I see how this happened to the hapless journalist. He interviewed two people. One was Dr Paul Seidler, coordinator of IBM’s nanoscale exploratory technology laboratory in Zurich, who knew precisely what he was talking about. And then there was Jim Tully, Head of Research at Gartner, who either had no idea what he was talking about or managed to make what he did know absolutely incomprehensible to the reporter.

The great pity of this article is that if the reporter had actually broken one of journalism’s silly rules and just interviewed Seidler, he would have had the makings of a very interesting article. Unfortunately, his journalism 101 instincts took hold and he made a hash out of it.

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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.

 
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