When an organisation set up for the promotion of science allows itself to be associated with a report they either haven’t read or haven’t understood, it indicates a fairly sorry state of affairs. What is the point of soundbites with no substance as presented on their website? If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that the main aim was to achieve media coverage by throwing neat, if wholly inaccurate, bite sized sensationalist chunks to the masses.
This attitude does so much harm. The point of a report like this should have been to tell young people that if you study science now, you can be involved in amazing things in the future. But what you need to do is show some science, even if it’s at the risk that some people wont understand. You want to capture the imaginations of the people with the potential to make a difference, at the same time as creating a media stir.
For example, take the nano-medic job. Well for a start, they’ll be called doctors, and if nanotech achieves a fraction of what people expect it to, it’ll be applicable to a wide range of specialisms. Neurologists will still be neurologists, it’s just that they might have some new tools to work with. They’ll probably be quite well paid, so I don’t need to conduct a survey to find out what proportion of the population think they will be well paid, as Fast Future did as one of the many pointless aspects of their research.
When most people think of nano-medicine, they think of tiny machines fixing parts of the body mechanically. This probably isn’t where the future lies (and if it did, the machines would never be sub-atomic).
One example of a possible application of nanotechnology in medicine, and one that is actively being researched, is the use of luminescent nanoparticles to locate cancer cells. The colour of light given off by nanoparticles depends on their size. That’s one of the great things about working on the nanoscale, this doesn’t happen with larger objects. So, you can coat a nanoparticle in a specific chemical which binds to cancerous cells, then pinpoint a tumour by locating the glow.
You can also target drug delivery, so that a potentially toxic drug affects only the afflicted part of the body, avoiding widespread side-effects.
It’d be easy enough to photoshop a picture of a glowing elbow to give it some punch. You can have your “nanotech makes cancer cells glow in the dark” headline for the press release. Tell kids to study physics, chemistry or medicine, and some of them will. So there you go. If I was being paid for this, I’d contact some researchers in the field, gather some primary references and compile it in a way that makes sense. As it is, a quick google search for “quantum dot cancer cells” found this article. I also found the video below as the first hit when searching for nano-medicine on YouTube. It’s accurate and relevant to what I’m saying… this doesn’t seem very difficult.
If Science: So What? are interested I am available to act in a consultancy role.
Update 09:02, 22/1/10: Evidence Matters has published a piece on the FF report, looking into the social science methods used. They are particularly critical of the referencing of source material. Since my post yesterday, I have found 4 more cases of cutting and pasting from websites used in the list of 20 future jobs. That’s 6 out of 20. I really can’t be bothered finding where the rest came from…