Nanotechnology Project


Nanotechnology: The Story Behind the Headlines

December 13, 2006

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WASHINGTON –Little science is big news, or is it? Does the media tend to hype nanotechnology, or neglect it? Do newspaper headlines focus more on nanotechnology’s risks than its benefits? How do journalists write stories on a technology about which most Americans know next to nothing and that is invisible to the human eye?

With governments, corporations and venture capitalists spending $9.6 billion annually on nanotechnology research and development, and with an estimated $2.6 trillion in global manufactured goods incorporating nanotechnology—or about 15% of total output—expected by 2014, there is a lot at stake in how these questions are answered.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies explored these questions at a December 13 2006 program featuring The Washington Post’s science and medical reporter, Rick Weiss, and Lehigh University professor Sharon M. Friedman. Mr. Weiss spoke about the challenges of writing about nanotechnology, especially in the face of scant popular understanding of the technology or its potential to change virtually every aspect of people’s lives. Professor Friedman reported her findings from six years of tracking U.S. and U.K. newspaper and wire service coverage of nanotechnology risks, work she did in collaboration with Brenda P. Egolf of Lehigh University.