“Selling out” on nanotechnology outreach

Somewhere, I must have taken a wrong turn in my life.  Three years ago, I was a serious scientist, doing research no-one understood, and writing papers no-one read. Now I find myself making videos about cream cakes.

It all started to go amiss when I got mixed up with a crowd with crazy ideas about engaging people on science.  First it was the small stuff—being interviewed by ten-year-olds about nanotechnology.  Before I knew it I was writing letters to fictional characters about nanotechnology policy (I’m still waiting for an answer from Arthur Weasley by the way…).  But this week I hit rock bottom: a video extolling the educational potential of an American artificial cream-stuffed sponge cake—the Twinkie!

Forget about the fact that convenience foods are a perfect analogy for engineered nanomaterials—where the whole is more than the sum of the “ingredients”.  Don’t be swayed by the idea that nanotechnology—like cakes—can be pretty good.  Ignore the obvious parallels between over-indulging on the sweet stuff, and overdosing on nanomaterials.  And discount the lessons on the challenges of trying to sell something that looks dodgy—whether it’s a new technology or a badly mangled food-product.  Making the secrets of nanotechnology accessible to all and sundry is surely the first step on a slippery slope toward people making informed decisions for themselves—and where would we be then!

But I still have my standards—throw my hard-earned scientific expertise before policy-makers?  Never!

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Footnote: Well I guess that once you’ve started a habit of trying to support science-based decision-making, it’s hard to kick.  Despite my declaration above, I will in fact be testifying before the U.S. House Science Committee this week on nanotechnology risk-focused research and development.  And no, I won’t be talking about Twinkies 🙂

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