Thursday, May 18, 2006

Science Hype 

Scientists are as good as any publicist in spinning their accomplishments in the media. This is one of the latest announcements from the developing world of nanotechnology. There have been numerous splashes in the media in the nano- field. The world's smallest wheel, smallest spring, smallest vehicle and so on. It's all good publicity, and it might win one a grant or two, but it isn't yet a business. It's play in the lab.

There is nothing wrong with playing in the lab and seeing what one can make. Eventually someone will stumble on something useful that can be mass manufactured. But, the impression these announcements leave is that nanotechnology has moved farther along than it has.

We see this illusion of promise time and again from science. Think of stem cell research. Think of the "cures" for cancer that might be available someday. Scientists are human and ambitious and in need of funding for work they want to do. Some go too far like the Chinese scientist who claimed a proprietary chip that he had copied or the Korean scientist who claimed cloning success that he had faked.

PR practitioners in universities need to be skeptics. They also need resources that can help them evaluate what professors claim.


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