April 06, 2004


Glenn Harlan Reynolds at TechCentralStation has a germane article on the BuckyBall Brouhaha, as does Howard Lovy. While both are well thought out and intelligent articles, two disturbing trends seem to be emerging.

Firstly, Glenn, Howard, and Chris Phoenix all capture a certain New York Zeitgeist. There seems to be a growing tendency among self styled "nanobusiness" spokesmen to dismiss anything that stand in the way of nanotechnology, or perhaps making money out of nanotechnology, with a zeal, tempered with bloody minded ignorance that borders on Lysenkoism.

While some on the business side have simply brushed aside concerns over toxicity, claiming that as the work has not been peer reviewed it is essentially worthless (an earlier brouhahah over Hendrich Schon perhaps indicates that science is far from perfect, although the backgrounds of the critics of the study, being finance and economics and law call into question their experience of peer review), it is worth remembering Nobel Laureate James Watson's views on what happens when ideology and science meet. This is just as relevant to naotoxicology studies as it is to biotech.

"Science may indeed uncover unpleasant truths, but the critical thing is, that they are truths. Any effort, whether wicked or well meaning to conceal truth or impede its disclosure is destructive." - DNA, 2003

Secondly, as everyone and their dog wants to be known as a nanotechnology company, lets consider what happens if any of these early results do end up uncovering an unpalatable truth. If buckyballs were found to be highly toxic, would the mainstream press, or environmental groups make the distinction between the buckyball flavour of nanotechnology and Intels processors or would they perhaps jump to conclusions about IBMs unfortunately named lab at East Fishkill?

Just to confuse matters, while the buckyball fish study was conducted by Eva Oberdörster , Günter Oberdörster at the University of Rochester has another toxicology study cued up for May publication in Inhalation Toxicology. In a closing quote which echoes some of James Watson's recent sentiments about biotech research, Oberdörster II says "At this point we're trying to balance the tremendous opportunity that nanotechnology presents with any potential harm"

Posted by Cientifica at April 6, 2004 11:27 PM | TrackBack

I'm not sure what "capture a certain New York Zeitgeist" means, but I'm rather disturbed that you listed me alongside Reynolds and Lovy in a paragraph warning about a "growing tendency among self styled nanotechnology spokesmen to dismiss anything that stand in the way of nanotechnology."

Reynolds and Lovy have focused mainly on limitations in the study and problems with the reporting of it. By contrast, my writeup took the study seriously and complained about the overly energetic dismissals (especially Josh Wolfe's). The closing paragraph was:

"Buckyballs, at moderately high concentrations, in at least some circumstances, appear to damage chemicals in the brains of fish. Deal with it, don't throw a tantrum about it. The industry ought to be glad for the early warning -- it gives them a better chance to avoid a really newsworthy cleanup later."

Posted by: Chris Phoenix, CRN at April 8, 2004 05:51 PM
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