Don't Let Bad Science Hinder Progress


Humans have a deeply ingrained fear of the unknown. In recent years this has lead to technophobia and chemophobia. This makes it easy to convince people that new things are potentially dangerous. While it is important to safety test any new technology, especially bio-medical technology, we can't let paranoia rule the day. Whether or not a technology is deemed "safe" must be based on sound science. After all, it may be good science that ultimately saves us from past bad science.

Nanotechnology has tremendous potential including environmental and medical applications. Obviously each of these potential applications will need to be thoroughly tested before it is put into use. Articles like this one from Fast Company's Co.Exist blog serve no one.

The article titled "Nanoparticles Might Be The Future, But They Might Also Be Really Bad For You" leaves you with the impression that nanotech in general is very dangerous. However, the article contains very little evidence of this. It contains a few vague references that imply that some biotechnology might, possibly have some negative side effects, and it points to no actual science. At the very best it presents negative side effects as a hypothesis with no supporting material and no specific information about what nanotechnology it refers to.

The article itself is bad reporting and bad science. It is base fear mongering of the kind we've seen around Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). To listen to the proponents of GMOs you'd think that what they were doing was no different from what farmers have done for centuries, to listen to the opponents you'd think that just standing near a GMO would probably kill you. Neither of these things is the truth, GMOs present some dangers and tremendous potential rewards. (Read GMO Myths and Truths (PDF) for more info.)

The reality is that if humanity is going to survive, it is science and technology that is going to save us. Last week atmospheric Co2 passed the 400 PPM level, despite years of 'reduce, reuse and recycle', the Kyoto protocol, energy efficient light bulbs etc., absolutely no progress at all has been made. If we are going to survive, technology is going to have to do it. While thorough testing is important and an essential part of science we can't reject technologies simply because they are new and scary and we have to assume that many new technologies will have a downside.
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