Monday, July 14, 2003

The Nanotech Media Conspiracy

By Howard Lovy

An editor at Newsweek magazine called me late last week asking if I could help him locate some pictures of zinc oxide nanoparticles -- the stuff that goes into some brands of sunscreen. So, I gave him some names of companies, told him what Small Times is all about, and the result was today's Newsweek article: The Next Asbestos?"

This is the third example in a couple of months of a mainstream news outlet using me as a source for background, yet not giving Small Times any credit or mention. Another one was this Wired story, Rage Against the (Green) Machine. Reuters interviewed me, too, for a story about nanotech products, but that has yet to see print. Although I wish they'd mention Small Times, these background interviews are ultimately why the publication I work for exists -- to educate the public about nanotech and to be a resource for mainstream journalists.

Unfortunately, the Newsweek article sounds like the usual "what we don't know will probably hurt us" scenario. "The uncertainty poses a risk for consumers ..." and "it's either the best thing since sliced bread or the next asbestos ..." etc. It gives readers the feeling that nanotech is something evil, without actually giving readers information other than "scientists don't know."

A more-thoughtful article about this subject came out in this news cycle, though. This one from Foreign Policy, "Ethics for a Very Small World."

CNet, too, came out with a profile of Nantero just a couple of days after we published our profile.

Again, I'm glad to be able to spur some story ideas out there.

The Denver Post, however, did manage to credit Small Times today in this article published Sunday: State Urged to Think Small". They cited our survey in the March/April issue of the top states for small tech development. Colorado was number 12.

Oh, and not to brag, but this trend that the San Francisco Business Times noticed this week, "Law Firms Think Small, Bet Big With Nanotech", we spotted last November in our report, "Invasion of the Lawyers."

So, eager young nanocadets, there are two lessons for today:

1. Editors and writers in the mainstream media continue to discover nanotechnology, and that's laying the groundwork for an informed public as nanotech hits the political agenda worldwide;

2. If you want to know what's going on before the mainstream media discover it, read this column.