Public Outreach in Nanotechnology through Paid-for Articles

It’s hard to know nowadays what is legitimate journalistic opinion and what is a paid-for editorial.

TNTLog noticed that in the popular UK newspaper The Guardian a recent opinion piece on the state of nanotechnology was in fact an editorial that was paid for by none other than Nanochannels, the odd EU-funded public outreach project.

As TNTLog suggests it is a bit "bizarre" to start a public outreach project by bamboozling the public into thinking that editorial opinion is genuine and not manufactured for a price.

It’s important to note that the article is really of the highest order for these types of stories. It shows us how nanotechnology is really part of our everyday lives as it traces our steps through a typical holiday in the sun. So, Nanochannels certainly got their money’s worth: A widely read daily newspaper in the UK contains a top-notch article on nanotechnology. Who could ask for more?

I am wondering if it might not be the public that presumably Nanochannels is supposed to be informing on nanotechnology might think they are getting a bit of the short end of the stick.

But this seems to be the avenue that Nanochannels has taken to inform the public. They have partnered with The Guardian to run what appears is going to be a series of articles on nanotechnology in lieu of producing their own website at least for the time being. It makes sense since a lot more people are likely to read The Guardian than find their way to a newly launched nanotechnology website.

But by leading people to believe that a paid-for article is part of the newspaper’s regular editorial content, it could be interpreted that Nanochannels (and the Guardian) have played fast and loose with public trust, which would seem to me a pretty important element in informing them about the benefits and risks of a technology that few understand or even care about.

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

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