Science and Bullying?

Are these two themes related?   There are claims that nanotechnology causes various types of diseases, can cause defects in humans and animals, and will cause long term issues in the environment.  (See previous blogs for some specific examples.)  There are more web sites that have “news” about nanotechnology or other technologies being harmful.  Usually, the recommendations are to stop employing the technologies or to ban the application or usage of the technologies.  The analyses in these reports carry terms like “feel”, “think”, “know”, “believe”, or similar verbiage without any supporting evidence.

Since the 17th century, there has been a method that employs “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of the hypotheses” [1] with the dissemination of information in sufficient details that other experimenters can replicate the results.

The information that is available on the internet does not come with a pedigree.  The information needs to be viewed with a “buyer beware” sign.  This is not to say that the information is good or bad only that one needs to evaluate the source and the credibility of information.  The core idea that underpins science is “trust but verify.” [2] Results must be subject to challenges from experiment.  Unfortunately, the peer reviewed publications do not publish many papers that report failures in hypothesis testing.  This in turn creates the need to develop “positive” results for publications, which are necessary for promotion in many organizations.  What happens when there are published results that refute previously published papers?

With the widespread distribution of the internet, it is possible to attack the researcher and his/her credibility, or to hire researchers to create experiments that will produce the desired results.  The former may be done through character assassination in order to discredit the results.  The latter takes money, but for large companies with even larger money at stake, this is always an option.  There are a number of ways to attack this “problem” of results that one does not want considered.   Is this approach “bullying”?  You decide.

What is the impact on you?  Consider the two recent articles, one in USAToday [3] and the other in Forbes [4].  There has been a lot of confusion on the effects of vaccinations, with a number of opponents suggesting the some of the constituents are responsible for causing other diseases/illnesses.  There has been a number of very prominent statements made by various groups on these “dangers” of vaccinations.  The other view is that the vaccinations prevent the spread of common diseases.  The articles report on a different side of the effects.

Which is correct?  Is it possible that both sides have valid points?  Does it require that individuals review the facts and make individual decisions?  It is one thing to make a personal decision and a totally different one to insist that everyone follow the writer’s beliefs.  When we try to force people to do what we perceive as correct, is that not bullying?  Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the ability to have discussions or debates.  That means everyone needs to do more research and studying on pronouncements.  Remember the comment from earlier in the blog: “Trust but Verify”.

 

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scientific%20method

[2] http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21588069-scientific-research-has-changed-world-now-it-needs-change-itself-how-science-goes-wrong

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/06/anti-vaccine-movement-is-giving-diseases-a-2nd-life/7007955/

[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2014/04/05/chilis-autism-awareness-problem/

 

About Walt

I have been involved in various aspects of nanotechnology since the late 1970s. My interest in promoting nano-safety began in 2006 and produced a white paper in 2007 explaining the four pillars of nano-safety. I am a technology futurist and is currently focused on nanoelectronics, single digit nanomaterials, and 3D printing at the nanoscale. My experience includes three startups, two of which I founded, 13 years at SEMATECH, where I was a Senior Fellow of the technical staff when I left, and 12 years at General Electric with nine of them on corporate staff. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, an MBA from James Madison University, and a B.S. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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