Try to imagine a FP6 (or an FP7, for that matter) European Union (EU) project on the risks of nanomaterials first translated into a website that is supposed to be simplified language for the layman and then translated again via an online translator into English and you have the EU’s unintentionally fascinating NanoSMILE.Since I was not raised in the labyrinth-like language of your typical European bureaucrat, I often found myself reading sentences over and over again in the vain hope that this time it would make sense—they never did. I pride myself in representing a certain segment of the audience that might come to the website and want to learn more about the risks, or lack thereof, of nanomaterials. What I didn’t realize is that I needed to completely change the way I thought so that I would immediately understand that the term “legal” could somehow represent “the precautionary principle.” Again I must confess I didn’t get through much of this website (it is so discouraging to continue browsing when you can’t even get the gist of the homepage), but to give you at least one indication of its way, I present the following:
“It's [sic] use must allow different audiences to understand the realities of work and production situations and to minimize differences in perceptions between the subjective views and the rationally estimated risk level.."I have a feeling this might make more sense in French, but my French is even worse than my English. Still undeterred at this point I thought I would take the website's quizzes, and I can happily report that I received 3 out of 3 in a four-question test. But what I really liked was the first question that asked for the definition of a “nano object.” I was frozen for a moment but through a process of elimination I was able to deduce the correct answer. Phew. Now I know what a nano object is. Hooray! NanoSMILE does serve a purpose, at least for me, and that is to illustrate how not to do a public engagement website on nanotech while Nano & Me provides us with a good example of how to do it properly.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.
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