It seems that concern is brewing that manufacturers may not publicize the use of nanomaterials in their products.
In the often misinformed exuberance of NGOs to rid the earth of evil nanomaterials produced by heartless, monolithic industry, it only makes sense that companies would start downplaying their use of the novel materials. In fact, I rather unimaginatively suggested this would happen here and here.
I wish I could say that these posts were prescient. No, they were just common sense. If one day sulfuric acid was proclaimed as the next wonder material of the world, as a nylon producer you might want to hype how it's used to make your products. But if you begin to see a rather healthy industry developing around the demonization of sulfuric acid, you might want to just talk about how your nylon is perfectly safe and not mention so much the toxic materials used to make it.
But we do love of our conspiracy theories, especially those that involve corporations trying to stick it John Q. Public. I rather enjoyed the one related here in which in 2007 there were 29 mentions of nanotechnology on a cosmetics website, but today zero. Ah hah...it's a brilliantly conceived plot, no doubt.
In the same article in which we get the conspiracy we are actually given another point of view (an increasingly rare occurrence) that it's all just a problem of semantics. If a size definition of nanotechnology could just be agreed upon, all the controversy would be settled.
"Varying definitions leads to claims that the industry is not open with information. But nobody is lying and nobody is misleading the public or authorities. Let's agree on what we're talking about and work together to inform consumers," said Steffi Freidrichs, director of the Nanotechnology Industries Association.
Yeah, it's just a difference between 300nm and 100nm. Problem solved. That's it. Then again, I'm not so sure those that are convinced that big, bad industry are compelled to poison us for the sake of profit are going to be so easily swayed by that argument.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.