The May 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Two Views of a British Tabloid's Take on Nanotechnology

Why are the tabloids so intent on making nanotechnology into the bogeyman?

2 min read

As evidenced by the blog links to the right of this post two of my favorite blogs that deal with nanotechnology are TNT Log and 20/20 Science. The two authors behind these blogs share some commonalities. They are both scientists, are both handy with the written word and are both from merry ole England.

It is the latter trait that appears to have led to them to be involved in an odd coincidence: both of them within a week of each other trying to deconstruct the science reporting of your typical British tabloid. For 20/20 Science the object of its attention is the Daily Mail  and for TNT Log it’s the same rag.

I mainly know the British tabloids by reputation, which is that of sensationalistic headlines and stories that don’t always burden themselves with facts. So, we could expect that the two science-trained scribes would make pretty short work of the publication in question.

Well, TNT Log takes the example of a piece written not by a trained journalist but by a representative of the Soil Association, which two years ago decided to not certify any products as “organic” that used nanotechnology additives even while they admitted the ban would impact zero products. Can you say “Grandstanding”? Needless to say, the half-truths and the impulse to extrapolate into fictions are quickly dismissed.

However, 20/20 Science started out to write a critical piece on the Daily Mail’s science reporting but ended up finding some value in it for at least providing some useful information despite the sensational headline.

The Daily Mail comes under pretty regular criticism for its coverage of science-related stories and for good cause.

But I was a little curious as to why they had set their sites on nanotech of late, and I think the answer is in the frequency of the criticism from blogs like Bad Science.

One of the fears of your common tabloid reader is that science is doing some terrible thing to them without them even knowing about it. It could be just about any scientific discipline, it just so happens nanotech is a pretty attractive target at the moment with its colorful doomsday terms like “grey goo’. 

I am sure we will see one day in one of the tabloids all the ways nanotech causes cancer and the next all the ways it cures cancer and not even a nod to the irony.


The Conversation (0)