Sunday, December 19, 2004

Just who the hell do I think I am?

I'm finding it funny that I'm now being called a "Drexlerian" in many nanotech quarters. One critic thought it strange that I "do seem to be flip flopping around from nanobots to nanomaterials," despite the fact that both of those subjects are legitimate areas of debate in our little world.

So, anyway, let me quickly try to clarify a few things before they get out of hand.

I'm a journalist who goes where the interesting stories are. I'm one of the few reporters these days who actually tries to report accurately what Eric Drexler and others who believe in molecular manufacturing believe, rather than what their detractors say they believe. Yet I also turn around and report Foresight Institute criticism, as well.

I have a fairly rounded view of what nanotechnology is to many different people. Remember, I spent three years covering the government's and the business community's definition of "nanotech." In fact, I helped frame that vision in the stories I assigned, edited and wrote.

So, to repeat: I'm not a scientist, I'm a journalist. I can't really be a "Drexlerian" or any kind of "erian," because I'm not qualified. But I'm a pretty damn good journalist who can communicate the conflicting ideas. The fact that I can't be pinned down as a follower of any one school of thought or another actually works to my benefit, and hopefully to the benefit of the subjects I cover.

But because nanotech is such a young "industry," or science or way of thinking, I believe it's my responsibility to take on the additional role as an instigator of debate between the various schools of thought. Everybody might come together to slam me, but at least they're coming together in one spot and challenging each other to defend their positions. So, as your friendly neighborhood nanoconduit, I transmit opinions held by the true experts when it comes to scientific theory.

But, as an experienced reporter, I'm also savvy enough to know when I'm being sold a bunch of PR. So, I should be allowed my opinions on issues of politics and communication.

So, you can tell me that nanotech is one thing, and one thing only -- it's molecular manufacturing a la Drexler -- and I'll report accurately what you believe. That's fine with me. Cool. I can build a coverage around it and create debate.

Or, you can tell me that nanotech, in reality, is doing handstands on the beach while collecting sand with your toes, and I can say, "Yes, Sir" and accurately reflect your opinions.

But, then, of course, after everybody vents their outrage at me over how I could be so naive and stupid as to give those handstand nuts equal time on my site, they'll have to answer to their critics, as well, who say that nanotech is really the design of better catapults for dwarf-tossing ...

The beautiful thing about science and progress is that, eventually, the best ideas win.


Anonymous said...

Is that 'Drexlerian' in the sense of having little or no understanding of science or 'Drexlerian' in the sense of jumping on and off any passing bandwagon?

Howard Lovy said...

Well, now here's where my simple, nonscientist's brain has some trouble. Perhaps you could explain to me how a great many brilliant minds could all come to me with a collective lie, and tell me that it's all very possible. It certainly isn't for the money, since declaring yourself open to the possibility is the kiss of death when it comes to government funding. Also, tell me how Richard Feynman's 1959 vision and Eric Drexler's 1986 vision represent a "passing bandwagon?"

I'm listening, and my notepad is open.


indeterminatedyad said...

Howard, thank you for clarifying your position. However, is it really accurate to say that "in science and progress the best idea always wins." This seems to be debatable, don't you think?

Howard Lovy said...

Well, I didn't say how long it would take. Once upon a time in ancient Greece, there lived a philosopher named Democritus. This was in the days before Computer Aided Design (or CAD). There was only MAD (Mind Aided Design), since other tools to examine the world had yet to be invented. And Democritus got this crazy idea that all matter is composed of individual particles he called "atoms." He was dismissed by many of his peers as a kook and humankind had to wait another two-and-a-half millennia before realizing Democritus got it right, after all -- at least, the basic idea, anyway.


indeterminatedyad said...

I guess I should have taken your word "science" as quite restrictive and to exclude "technology". Because we may wait more than a couple of millenia to see Beta finally win the day over VHS. Alas, the best "technology" does not always win as evidenced by a number of other notable examples.

So, for science you may be correct. I just hope it doesn't always take 2000 years.

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