I guess I have become inured to the idea that there is little synthesis on the issues of the day rather only antithesis. That’s why five years after the release of the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report “Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties”, I am not surprised that it seems as though we haven’t progressed much far beyond name calling regarding the safety of nanomaterials.
The Responsible Nano Forum, which has been quite busy of late with the launching of their new Nano&me website, has just released a report putting the last five years into some kind of perspective.
Andrew Maynard on his 20/20 Science blog has followed up on this report providing his own perspective on the situation, which scans about right.
While I can appreciate the arguments on both sides (to an extent), it all seems so needlessly polemical.
On the one hand you have Allan Shalleck over at Nanotech-Now arguing that the media have been following sensational headlines and have missed the other side of the story which is there has been zero reported health-related issues caused by nanomaterials…thus far.
Then on the other hand you have some NGOs claiming that the environmental benefits of nanomaterials, such as pollution remediation and clean drinking water, which have been used to counterbalance their reported potential negative effects, are over hyped.
Meanwhile you have everyone trying somehow to engage the public on the issue of nanotechnology, or at least get them mildly interested.
Aside from the fact that we don’t really have as much hard experimental data today on the safety of nanomaterials as one might have expected five years ago when the RS and RAE report was published, perhaps of more interest is that the general public not only doesn’t care, but they still don’t even understand what nanotechnology is. Who can blame them really?
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.