Nanotechnology Detractors Grumble over Lack of Public Concern

Sometimes it can be just so frustrating when trying to stir up public hysteria and all you get is a shoulder shrug. So goes the lament in this article, entitled â''Fearing the Invisibleâ''Selling Nanotechnology Hazardsâ'' at the Safety at Work blog.

It seems like all the effort to link nanotechnology to asbestos has just not got the public demanding a total moratorium on nanotechnology as some NGOs have proposed.

This lack of response could be that the main evidence that finds a similarity in the behavior between asbestos and some nanoparticles (namely, multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs)) rests upon research of Ken Donaldson at Edinburg University, which did not really address the issues of dose and exposure.

No, the author of the article is probably right, it has little to do with the science, but rather how effective the sell has been on the connection. At least one of the problems, according to the author, is that itâ''s hard to get people afraid of the invisible. Not sure I am buying that one since the unknown of anything thatâ''s invisible (say, for example, the swine flu virus) does a pretty good job of freaking people out beyond all reason.

The article comes a little closer to the mark when it points out that unlike asbestos, which had visible products such as roofing or insulation materials, nanotechnology may be contained in products but people canâ''t â''seeâ'' the nanotechnology.

Thatâ''s not quite right either, Iâ''m afraid.

I think one possibility not discussed in the article for the causes of the â''Who cares?â'' attitude could be that the idea of over 500 consumer products that use nanomaterials just doesnâ''t stir up a lot of public concern.

Another possibility may be that while ignorance can be fantastic accelerant for fueling public hysteria, it seems in the case of nanotechnology to be mated to such complete apathy to try and learn anything about the subject that it never seems to ignite.

Or a third option might be that the prospects of better treatments to disease like cancer, or improving alternative energy sources like photovoltaics may be a bit of better tradeoff than better pipe insulation and roofing shingles we got from asbestos.

You know, the public may be on to something.

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