A few days ago, researcher Eva Oberdoerster presented her work with buckyballs and fish to a scientific meeting. The press, naturally enough, reported it -- nanotech is big news nowadays. So yesterday, in the FORBES/WOLFE Nanotech Weekly Insider, Josh Wolfe (a nano investment advisor) blasted the story, and Eva herself by thinly-veiled implication:
The study wasn't shocking. That papers picked it up, was. Alarmist headlines might sell papers, but there's a responsibility to report on peer-reviewed and journal published science .... The scientific system exists for a reason. You'll see a handful of toxicologists report alarmist findings no matter how preliminary. It helps guarantee they've got funding and a job. But one scientist you can trust is Rice's Vicki Colvin. She's honest in her viewpoints and versed in how to communicate her scientific findings to the public without inducing fear, anxiety or panic.
I phoned Eva, who is a biologist at Southern Methodist University in Texas, and she spent half an hour talking with me about her findings and what they meant. Eva is not an alarmist. Her explanations were very clear and very low-key. And she made a point of telling me at the end of our conversation that buckyball research should not be stopped or delayed. (I suggested that it should be stopped just long enough for the researchers to put on gloves, and she agreed.)
It's also worth noting that Eva's collaborator -- the one who suggested she study buckyballs in the first place -- was Rice's Vicki Colvin.
Josh Wolfe seems to be jumping at shadows, shooting messengers, and calling for a reduction in scientific dialogue. This is not the way to reassure the public that he intends to be responsible about nanotech. Would he prefer that research happen only behind closed doors? Perhaps the press should have been barred from that scientific meeting?
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.