Currently, I am involved in writing a chapter on information reliability for a nano-safety book that should be published by early 2017. My colleague, Evelyn Hirt, who has been leading this chapter effort, found some interesting developments in reviewing the traditional sources of nanotechnology information. The typically recognized governmental sites are still functioning. A number of new sites, which have connections to various government agencies around the world, have been added. There are still a number of sites that are maintained through government funding. Traditionally, these sites contain the latest information. Some sites are either disappearing or have become stagnant, probably due to lack of funding.
Non-governmental organizations have, like the Royal Society of Chemistry and The American Chemical Society, have information available to both their members and the general public (although some information requires paying a fee). These organization apply a portion of their members’ dues to creating and maintaining a database that can be very useful.
Do not expect to find most of the information that will probably need. As of 2011 there is information on the Chemical Abstract Service for under 63 million (63 x 108) chemical sequences. Considering the known elements, the estimates are that over 10200 possible individual nanoscale particles.
Information on the web is another story. The Internet, which was originally the ARPANet (1968 RFQ), was designed for the rapid communication of scientific data. Peer review is typically a long process with peer reviews, comments to the authors, rebuttals, decision on publication value. Rapid dissemination of information at that time was by air mail instead of surface mail. There was a need to more rapidly share scientific information. Consequently, the ARPANet was conceived to solve this problem among universities and scientific organizations. This has evolved into today Internet with high speed communications. Today there are billions of different sites with a vast array of “information.”
While all the types of sources mentioned above normally provide good information, the information on the web is not always accurate. The explosion of data available on the web is not always beneficial. Information needs to be checked and verified. There are other sites that previously had been key sources of information, and now are no longer maintained due to funding issues. Consequently, the data provided is aged and may not be the latest available information.
Even with governmental site, there may be issues. Occasionally, there have been conflicting announcements from different approaches issued by different agencies within one government department. In 2008, two of the US Environmental Protection Agency programs, Office of Pesticide Programs and the Office of Pollution Preventions and Toxics, issued conflicting directives on what would be considered a new chemical based on size alone and the other indicating that this would not be the case if the material was used previously.
With the openness of the internet, anyone can post anything, accurate or not. There is no overseeing guidance. In addition, there is a greater degree of polarization of opinions and the lack of discourse on scientific findings. While there always have been differences of opinion, today’s approach appears to be to attack the opposing side. Even politics seems to be getting into the determination of scientific fact. Senator Whitehouse (Dem, RI) is threatening to use RICO (Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Organizations Act) to silence researchers with opinions that differ from his supporters [Ref. 1]. Twenty scientists have asked the President to use the RICO to silence critics of their stance [Ref. 2]. This direction is ominous and can severely inhibit scientific research.
Consequently, the ability to obtain accurate, factual information is becoming more challenging. This requires the individual to do more investigation to find out the truth. One needs to check and double check. All I can say is “Good Hunting.”