Small but deadly?

A piece in today’s Independent newspaper – Small but deadly – neatly illustrates much of what is good and bad about mainstream journalism about nanotechnology today.

The main text of the story reports a study from the Rice group reporting on the mechanism by which unmodified buckminster fullerene damages human cells, and the way in which this toxicity is greatly reduced by attaching functional groups to the surface of the fullerene molecule. Although the story is not exactly news (the paper in question appeared on September 23rd, and was extensively reported elsewhere), the main text of the report is fairly clear, accurate and well written.

But if the science reporting is good, the context in which the story is introduced is lamentable. The introductory paragraph moves quickly from Michael Crichton’s Prey, via self-replicating robots consuming the planet, to Prince Charles’s warning that nanotechnology could lead to a thalidomide-like health disaster.

And if only the science journalist could have a quick word with the picture editor. Once again, the story is illustrated with a completely idiotic medical nanorobot image from the Science Photo Library’s extensive range of stupid nanotechnology graphics. To add insult to injury, this is described in the caption as a “computer simulation”.

2 thoughts on “Small but deadly?”

  1. I suspect that nanotubes especially will turn out as far as progress goes mere folly. They will also undoubtedly be toxic and studies seem to indicate this so far. Think about the science for a moment. Immensely strong inorganic fibres of high aspect ratio (length / width) resemble those of asbestos fibres and are expected to interact in much the same way. Such fibres could be imbedded in the lungs. The body has no mechanism for removal of such material.

    Of course there are vested interested in promoting these materials despite their dubious safety aspects.

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