I have no bones about expressing my skepticism for the Project on Emerging Technologies (PEN) nanotech product list. It manages at once to blur the lines of what is nanotech and what products are enabled by it and serve as a quasi- scientific list that could influence real decisions about the future of nanotechnology, which doesn’t sit too well with me.
But I have to hand it to the folks over at PEN, they really know how to promote this thing. The latest is none other than iPhone App called findNano.
The new app will not only allow users to browse through PEN’s product inventory list, but even allow them to add to the list if they find something that appears to be missing. They simply take a picture of the product and e-mail it directly to PEN for consideration. I wonder if this will mean the product inventory could reach 2,000 next year?I found the write-up of the new app over at Andrew Maynard’s 20/20 Science blog (who by the way serves as PEN’s chief scientist) adding to my doubts about the whole enterprise. It turns out the criteria for being included on the list is less than rigorous
“The app relies entirely on manufacturer claims (although claims that are too outlandish are ignored – Nano Ghiacciato didn’t make the cut for instance!), which means that listed products are only allegedly nanotech based – they have not been independently tested. It also means that there are probably many products out there that are nanotech-enabled that haven’t been included, simply because manufacturers have been backward in being forward about the technology they are using.”
And is actually being used by policy makers to influence policy. Yikes!
“That said, findNano does provide some insight into how nanotechnology is appearing in products that people are buying and using – something the US Environmental Protection Agency recognized when they used the web-based version to estimate the range of engineered nanomaterials being produced.”
I am sure findNano will be fun to play with for those who find the myriad iPhone apps entertaining or useful, but now that the EPA has decided to get more deeply involved in nanotech is this really a resource we want government regulators to be referencing?
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.