Sunday, June 12, 2005

Naked aggression

Here are some snippets of reaction to my Wired News article: "When Nanopants Attack." I'll let them speak for themselves, but let me just offer a simple thought for scientists who do not believe they need to be paying attention to this.

Yes, the protesters have their facts wrong in so many ways (most of which has already been pointed out on this blog over the past couple of years), but does that not place the burden on you to make sure the general public understands what it is you're really doing? And what you're really selling? And what you really do not yet know about nanomaterial toxicity?

In any revolution, it's almost always the intellectuals who are first to be carted away.

Now, here's what others are saying:

    "This is not helping our future it is only showing how stupid people can be."

    I suppose it doesn't hurt to bring up issues, but I can't help but notice these are zealots leading the cause of environmental awareness.

    "I think we all agree that it would be bad for nanocytes to be roaming freely through the environment, but the nanowhiskers in Eddie Bauer pants are not self-replicating entities. People don't understand that uncontrolled self-replicating monsters are far more likely to be developed if this is all pushed underground. ... Anybody who thinks that China and other high tech players are going to sign on to any form of nano nonproliferation treaty are gravely mistaken. While we wait, the sun rises in the East." More here

    It’s just a bunch of neo-luddites operating under the guise of “environmentalism” trying to stop the only technology that will actually answer all their calls for “renewable, clean, green” technology that allows the earth, humanity and our essential tool using consumerism to exist in harmony. More here
    Not to put too fine a point on it…

    …but what a bunch of ridiculous morons. No, really, morons — the kind of ignorant people who think “natural” means “safe” [or anything at all], that Man’s relationship with nature is all about unknowable deep wholistic truths unattainable by mere mortal men [as if there was such a thing as “Man”, “relationship” and “truth”], and that they’re being oppressed and endangered… by marketing jargon. About laundry. More here

Better watch your backside ... beware the pants
Nanopants miss the Bullseye
Nanopants: 'Century City' style
Nanopants diary


Anonymous said...

Howard, of course I agree entirely with your comment about the need for scientists to pay attention to this and engage with the public, which is why I've been spending a great deal of time recently doing just this. Although the degree to which environmental activists are cavalier with the facts exasperates me, to some extent one can't help feeling that the nanobusiness lobby is reaping what it's sown. Exaggerated claims of novelty are naturally countered by exaggerated claims of danger. What your otherwise excellent piece didn't do was subject the Nanotex claims to a great deal of critical scrutiny. You might want to look again at this old post in which I looked at the Nanotex patents and asked how much they fundamentally differ from old technologies like 3M's Scotchgard™.

Howard Lovy said...

Absolutely, Richard. And you might want to look at this old post that links to a Forbes/Wolfe feature I wrote on 3M. They've been doing "nano" for about a half-century now. I link to the Nano-Tex patents from this post.

What's important here, though, is -- like you said -- if they're going to rename chemistry "nanotechnology" (as even 3M is beginning to do now) then they've got to accept the downside, as well -- no matter whether that downside is perceived or real.

Anonymous said...

"Exaggerated claims of novelty are naturally countered by exaggerated claims of danger."

Our point exactly,Mr. Jones. We are called "morons" by the scientific community for putting out negative nanohype.

But the scientific community is notably silent when the salesmen put our positive nanohype.

Can you say "hypocritical"? And, no, we don't men you, Mr. Jones.

Anonymous said...

I'm grateful to THONG for acquitting me on the hypocrisy charge, but another serious point remains. It may be understandable that exaggeration on one side is met by exaggeration on the other, but it doesn't make it right, and more importantly I don't think this situation is in your best interests. If opponents of nanotechnology are completely indiscriminate about the reasons for opposing the technology, and (as I believe is happening now) quite legitimate causes for concern are mixed up with concerns that are completely groundless, then it's easy for pro-business voices to use the fact that some concerns are easily refuted to discredit opposition on any grounds. You may, of course, not think it is important to make sure that the reasons you oppose nanotechnology are scientifically credible; to some extent this depends whether you are interested in having any kind of real input to policy makers, or whether you are simply interested in gesture politics.

Howard, I'll be a Menshevik to the last (and, yes, I know what happened to them).

Howard Lovy said...

Richard, we may disagree on some issues, but in my book you're also a mensch.

Anonymous said...

Just two quick notes of clarification:

(1) I'm not a member of the "scientific community" these days, in any meaningful sense. I'm an engineer, and a consultant. I suspect that (for what it's worth) most actual members of the scientific community proper are paying no attention whatsoever, either to Eddie Bauer or THONG.

(2) When I refer to the protesters as "morons" I am in no way being discriminatory against them or their cause, but rather making a comment that would apply equally to Eddie Bauer's marketing idiots, or more generally to anybody who thinks sticking the prefix "nano-" onto your pants is smart or right, or anybody who thinks that anything human beings create or do is intrinsically "more dangerous" than what nature itself does all the time.

There's an important sentence in the piece Howard quoted that got clipped off: Nature, it turns out, is about everything trying to simultaneously transform everything else into more stuff it can use.

I'd love to hear substantive and convincing argument otherwise, that leads me to believe that changing the composition of a fabric used in clothing poses any sort of larger threat to human well-being than, say, the millions of years that actual, "natural" plants have been cunningly creating carcinogens and toxins in their directed, serious attempt to emasculate, delude or kill herbivores.

The reason herbs smell funny is because they're full of insecticides, after all. Insecticides that work, by the way....