Monday, 21 May 2012

The Roots of Nano-Fear Decoded

In my opinion, it is impossible to isolate the responsible for the roots of nano-fear. The world and society are too complex and dynamic for such a task. However, it is possible to identify "clouds of higher probabilistic density" where responsibility for the roots of nano-fear is more likely to be located. This article will try to decode the roots of nano-fear. Or rather, I will try to decode those which are the main roots of nano-fear (or at least some of them).


Whenever a new technology with relevance emerges; whenever the science shows to the world an important discovery, usually a whole range of complex and dynamic processes are initiated. Follow some of them (not necessarily in that order):

  • The industry triggers a race to introduce new product offerings and services into commercial channels;
  • If applicable, the field of medicine or health care develops applications of this new emerging technology or scientific discovery with relevance, to improve the health and welfare of populations; 
  • Regulatory authorities study, monitors, discuss and evaluate the whole process of innovation under various angles and develop work that will generate legislation;
  • Communication professionals communicate (or deliver) to the world news, stories and a whole range of information regarding this new emerging technology or scientific discovery with relevance;
  • Part of the population (usually with less access to information) reacts with fear and suspicion (although this is not a generalized rule, it often happens).

It is also generally known and common sense that a new emerging scientific or technological discovery with relevance can be used for various purposes (whatever they are).

The principles that I presented above are also applicable to nanoscience and nanotechnology. Processes and their dynamics did not happen suddenly. However, succeeded very gradually, over the years.

After Richard Phillips Feynman, December 29th, 1959 presented the 
famous talk at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), called "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom" the world in general was not prepared for the reach of his message.

The words of Richard P. Feynman needed interpretation, the recognition that he obtained through a Nobel Award and the development of many scientific studies, so that a significant part of the world could understand the importance of he said.

In fact, as I wrote in "The Origins of Nanotechnology", the Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 was awarded jointly to Sin-Itiro TomonagaJulian Schwinger and Richard P. Feynman "for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles".

Thus, the scientific and technological advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology gradually succeeded over the years. In the last decade, the number of discoveries and published articles has increased in a way - I would say - approximately exponential.

During this last decade, the media also focused their attention on the theme of nanoscience and nanotechnology and all issues that spin around.

Finally, what do we have now?
  1. We have, on one hand, a notorious progress in nanoscience and nanotechnology which has been welcome, or reasonably recognized by the scientific community, industry and other players as well;
  2. On the other hand, we have citizens adopting a position of scepticism, suspicion and fear towards the dissemination and communication of advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology;
  3. We also have a third group which comprises people who have not yet formed a consolidated opinion. 
Regarding the first group, those have access to information published on scientific articles. This group is well informed, on a scientific and technological perspective.

In my opinion, it is impossible to isolate the responsible for the roots of nano-fear. The world and society are too complex and dynamic for such a task. However, it is possible to identify "clouds of higher probabilistic density" where responsibility for the roots of nano-fear is more likely to be located.

This article will try to decode the roots of nano-fear. Or rather, I will try to decode those which are the main roots of nano-fear (or at least some of them).

Nanotoxicity And Nanopollution

Populations are exposed to (1) naturally occurring nanoparticles present in the environment and to (2) nanoparticles produced by Humans during their work activity (e.g. into R&D laboratories, industrial facilities and surroundings).

In what concerns to nanoparticles produced by Humans present in products produced 
by Humans, these are normally nanoengineered nanoparticles (NENPs) or, in other words, engineered nanoparticles. NENPs are nanoparticles that have been specifically designed for a specific function (e.g. packaging coating, protection of radiation in sunscreens). 

In addition, Humans are exposed to a wide range of nanoparticles incorporated into consumer goods. As consumer goods, the waste is thrown into the trash and follows (seeing this process through an optimistic perspective) the entire cycle of garbage separation and subsequent treatment.

Therefore, nanoparticles are present in (1) the air, (2) the water and (3) the soils. Thus, all requirements for the entire biosphere is contaminated with the ubiquity of nanoparticles are gathered.

On the other hand, nanoparticles present into plants and animals traverse the entire food chain until reach Humans.

The Tremendously Enormous Complexity of Nanoregulation

In fact, nanoregulation is an intricate network of interconnected processes that require expertise and experience of many people currently working in an articulated, coordinated way, under the auspices of the positive and constructive debate, cooperation and collaboration. Nanoregulation is anything but easy. At a certain point and in many cases it is necessary to understand science, nanoscience, nanotechnology and legislation at the same time.

Explained the matter this way, it is not surprising that nanoregulation had begun to be developed with some delay. In my personal opinion, I believe that is extremely unfair to throw responsibilities to regulatory authorities. The nanoregulation is complex and complicated by nature and definition. I dare to state that nanoregulation is one of the aspects (or the aspect) of nanoscience and nanotechnology with greater complexity, higher degree of difficulty to be solved and that requires more resources.

Even then, the regulation started with some delay and that's a fact. The reasons, these I already explained above.

The consequence: fear ("what will happen to our world, our planet, we and the environment, if the authorities do not implement nanoregulation?").

Anyway, the regulation is currently (at least in some pa
rts of the world) being developed at full speed. One among several examples, I have already presented in a previous article: "Good Winds From FDA".

Gaps (which will disappear) in Regulation

From what I've observed, most of the industries that operate totally or partially in the field of nanotechnology adopt a policy of transparency and good practices. Also from what I've seen, only a minority of industries has chosen the path of the lack of transparency, good practices, thus leading to poor credibility.

As I pointed above, nanoregulation is extremely complex.

Drugs that require medical prescription are, due to statutory requirements, introduced in the commercial channels after being approved on clinical trials. This principle applies to drugs that do not rely on nanotechnology, but also to nanotechnology-enabled drugs.

However, health care products (such as a lot of cosmetic products) do not require medical prescription and are not subject to legal requirement for clinical trials. This applies to products which do not use nanotechnology, but also those nanotechnology-enabled medical products.

Nanotechnology-enabled medical products contain (as it is understandable) nanoparticles. This is not necessarily bad. Rather, it can be highly advantageous. If clinical trials clearly show that the following requirements (with respect to nanoparticles of the drug) are met, then the nanotechnology-enabled drugs present an added benefit and are highly advantageous from the therapeutic point of view:
  • Nanoparticles are not toxic to the patient;
  • Nanoparticles are not toxic to the workers;
  • Nanoparticles are not toxic to the environment;
  • Nanoparticles actually contribute to increase the therapeutic efficacy of the drug.
Industries in general, even with an absence of regulation, choose the path of transparency to consumers - the right choice, that reveals responsibility and clear thinking and brings high benefits to the corporate credibility.

However, on the other hand, the absence of regulation for certain medical products creates opportunity for some industries (which I believe to be a minority) to adopt a posture less transparent to consumers.

Again, this absence of transparency to customers, once communicated to citizens (specially if the information is communicated by communication professionals who have a poor knowledge of what they are talking or writing about) produces fear and suspicion.

Intensive work is under development now in order to eliminate or minimize these regulatory gaps. I personally believe that the nanoregulatory landscape will change the rules within a relatively short time.


Nanoeducation has been undervalued. Today the perception of nanoeducation is wrong and dysfunctional. It is common practice to perceive nanoeducation as a set of academic programs (e.g. courses, degrees, masters, doctorates, post docs) directed to nanoscientists or other scientists interested in career advancement and enrich their curriculum vitae. This is in fact nanoeducation. More precisely, this is just a tiny part of nanoeducation (according to my personal way of thinking).

An excellent nanoeducation would complement and fill an enormous range of gaps in the entire nanotechnology framework – something that unfortunately does not happen.

A world population with a wrong, distorted or dysfunctional 
perception of nanotechnology and the benefits it can bring to society can trigger the decline of nanotechnology.

Bioethics, Nanoethics and Nanobioetichs / Bionanoethics. In One Word: Ethics

The vast majority of the promises that nanoscience and nanotechnology bring us, when evidence-based (in most cases); fill us with hope for a better life and better world.

However, there are a whole range of ethical issues that require serious debate, intensive and comprehensive, carried out by experts from various sectors. Many of these debates are already being carried out in a serious, intensive and comprehensive way, by experts from various sectors.

Follow some aspects that are the object of debate:

  • Nanotoxicity and nanopollution. Although this issue has already been described above, it does have a serious ethical component;
  • Bad practices carried out by a minority of industries in contrast to the good practices undertaken by most industries. Although this topic has also been identified above, has also a serious ethical component;
  • Consumer protection. This point is raised by the existence of bad practices carried out by minority of manufacturers of consumer goods. As expected, this aspect also contributes to the nano-fear and suspicion;
  • Nanomedicine, increased life expectancy, increasing world population, Human enhancement and sustainability. As evidence of many scientific papers published, nanomedicine offers tremendous potential for populations: (1) earlier and more accurately diagnostics of diseases; (2) more effective treatment of diseases; (3) more effective cure of diseases; (4) significantly increase of the welfare of the population; (5) significantly increase the life expectancy of human beings. Directly or indirectly, nanomedicine will help the populations having better health and living up later. This contribution reinforces the estimates of the global population growth and increased average life expectancy of populations. So here we all have a real and serious problem of sustainability for all our descendants. Human enhancement is the set of efforts, actions and technologies to overcome (temporarily or permanently) the current limitations of the human body employing natural or artificial means. The definition of "Human enhancement" is not very clear and there are divergences in relation to this matter. Some bioethicists and  nanobioethicists prefer to restrict this term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies to Human biology. Some examples: nanotechnology, gene technologies, neurotechnologies and cybertechnologies. This issue unleashes controversy about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to do. The debate also discusses where must begin and where must end the Human Enhancement Technologies (HET). The debate involves ethical, bioethical, nanoethical, nanobioethical, anthropological, philosophical, religious aspects among many others;
  • Applications of nanotechnology in defence. Just the mere mention of this aspect alone creates fear and suspicion. Applications can even serve only to make the equipment lighter, for example. However, fear and suspicion are emotional and therefore irrational feelings;
  • Unauthorized access to nanotechnology by individuals or groups of individuals with bad intentions. We live in an era of innovation and reinvention. Developing this idea with some irony, even terrorist groups need to innovate and reinvent their methods of spreading terror;
  • Theft of private health information. The development of nanotechnology applications is reflected in the development of nanoelectronics, the construction of new semiconductors, and computers with processing speed, storage capacity and number of functionalities incomparably more powerful of the ones currently used. This development paves the way to an enormous benefit: the development of management systems for health information, which will benefit not only patients but also all health systems. As happens today, there may be a risk of theft of private health information.

The Responsibility of Media Professionals

Regarding the sec
ond and third groups (on Introduction), people in general (the average citizen) are informed through the media:
  • If the information is independent, accurate, accessible and of quality, people are well or acceptably informed;
  • However, if the information is partial, speculative, unfounded, inaccurate, explained in a confusing way and of dubious quality, people get a distorted picture of reality. 
In my personal opinion, communication professionals are divided into two main groups:

  • Those who are well informed or know the bare minimum about what the subject is about and, in this case, communicate seriously;
  • Those who simply know nothing about it and due to their profession, treat the information with negligence and with a doubtful credibility;
    Those communication professionals, who simply know nothing about nanoscience and nanotechnology (or even science) and due to their profession, treat the information with negligence and with a doubtful credibility are the ones who deliver partial, speculative, unfounded, inaccurate information. This bad information is also explained in a confusing way and is of dubious quality. Consequently, people start to have a distorted view of reality.

    What are the direct consequences of this? Fear and suspicion.

    Are those communication professionals who simply know nothing about nanoscience and nanotechnology (or even science) and treat the information with negligence and with a doubtful credibility the solely responsibles for the nano-fear? By no means.

    Media professionals (in general) are simultaneously:

    • The last link of a complex and dynamic chain of actors and processes, placed immediately before being triggered various discussions and an atmosphere of (1) acceptance, (2) indifference or (3) fear and suspicion;
    • The most influential communication interface with the average citizen.

    Final Comments

    In this article I tried to decode the roots of nano-fear (or rather, those that seem to be the main roots of nano-fear or at least some of them).

    As everything in Life, pointing out what is (or was) wrong (or has room for improvement) is not enough. It is also necessary to point out ways and solutions. This is what I will do in some of my next articles.


    Regarding Richard Phillips Feynman, his work and his famous lecture "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom", I use Wikipedia as source.
    Regarding the The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965, I used the following source:

    "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1965". 16 Apr 2012

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