Thursday, March 3, 2005


Staff Reporter, "Military Uses of Nanotechnology - the coming scary cold way of Nano-bots and Nano-materials - the invisible deadly Nano-bombs," INDIA DAILY, February 27, 2005 (

What is irresponsible journalism? That depends on the goals of journalism. Fear mongering and disaster pornography sells media. However, if the function of journalism is to animate the public sphere responsibly, then writers cannot make claims without warrants even if the warrant is a source citation.

Nanoscience, read nanotechnology, is rife with hyperbole. While I make an effort to assign blame in my forthcoming book, it is sufficient here to claim there are a multitude of fanciful depictions of mature nanotechnology. Hence, this notice of HYPERBOLE OF THE MONTH.

Here are a few quotes from the article.

"Nanotechnologies...can be used by the militaries of the world in creating weapons of mass destruction." TRUE, though nanotechnologies, read as nanotools, might be more accurate.

Next quotation.

"Militaries of many countries have established weapons with Nano-techs." FALSE and ???. First, ???. What is/are "Nano-techs"? Little technicians? Second, which militaries?


"...[N]ano-materials massively damage the lungs. Ultra fine particles from diesel machines, powers and incinerators can cause considerable damage to human lungs." FALSE and TRUE. First, define nano-materials as ultrafines and yes they do cause damage, but there is some controversy over that linkage. Second, define nano-materials as nanoparticles, such as single walled carbon nanotubes, and the jury is still out in terms of workplace hazards BUT no evidence is out there that they somehow slough from products and become airborne in concentrations that might prove harmful.


"...[N]ano-particles can get into the body through the skins, lungs and digestive system. This may help create free radicals that can cause cell damage." YIKES. Transdermal expression is unproven. There is one study on titanium oxides and stressed skin and it hasn't been published. Lungs, better. Lots of studies, but little consensus. Ingestion, yikes. You probably shouldn't eat a handful of carbon nanotubes.


"...[T]he human body...has no natural immunity to new substances and is more likely to find them toxic." OK. First, true of all things bigger than nanosize. Second, you are begging the issues from above. Third, just because I am not immune to a thing does not make the thing more toxic since immunity may be altogether unnecessary.


"...[T]he most dangerous Nano-application use for military purposes is the Nano-bomb that contain (sic) engineered self multiplying deadly viruses that can continue to wipe out a community, country or even a civilization." For this alone, the author wins the NANOHYPE AWARD for February. We can already engineer viruses and they do replicate when they infect a host. I guess that could be construed to be self replicating. We don't need a "Nano-bomb" to do that. By the way, what is a "Nano-bomb" anyways? Where did this come from?


"Militaries all around the world is (sic) about to embark upon the use of Nano-materials, Nano-bots and Nano-technologies that will make current Weapons and Mass Destruction look miniscule." IRRESPONSIBLE. This rhetorical flourish has no warrant. Actually the concept of size is not a defining feature of WMDs. I assume the author means destructive potential. Regardless, check off 1. Militaries without identification. 2. "All around the world" overclaim. 3. "Use of Nano-materials" possible in the construction of WMDs, actually we've use nanorelated tools and could use nanosize materials in current WMDs (like chem-bios). 4. Nano-bots do not exist. 5. Nano-technologies - see above (I guess).

This is irresponsible journalism and deserves to be called out.


Anonymous said...

Have you sent the award to the publication, in the hope they might improve their coverage? Are you thinking of doing so in future?

Best --
Charles Q. Choi

RSE said...

The Nano-hype is crossing its limits. It is worth comparing the present hype, which is mainly fuelled by the easily available free for all Internet media, to that of high temperature superconductors’ discovery in late 80s. Still researchers are struggling to come out with a visible application for common man out of these materials. Slowly the field is getting confined to a few pages of couple of journals. A number of journals specialised in superconductors have already closed their shops and the existing ones are struggling for their survival. Now a days there is hardly any news about these materials nor the old superconductor hype in the media!

I still remember peoples statement in the top two prestigious science journals saying that, these materials will 'soon change the way man lives'. But nothing has changed even after nearly two decades of the discovery; expect that the field itself is in the process of becoming extinct!

I am afraid the nano-field may also be following the same footsteps of the superconductor field. The Nano researchers and mostly the Nano-hypers need to learn a lesson from the superconductor materials and the hopes raised by the superconductor-hypers of that time. Ironically some of these superconductor hypers have moved into the nano field and again chanting the same old hype but in nano-tone!

It is important to project a realistic picture of the field to common man and not to loose credibility at a later date

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