Media Portraits of Nanotech in North American Written Media
Volume 2, Issue 4
Brenton Faber, Clarkson University
Justin Mackinnon, Clarkson University
Margaret Petroccione, Clarkson University
The media will play a defining role in educating society about nanotechnology. Indeed, media portraits of nanotech will influence investments, legislative and regulatory decisions, and commercialization of nanotech-based products. In this article, a team of social scientists analyze how the media has historically portrayed nanotech. Media reports of nanoscale science and technology (NST) from 1986-2000 represented the field as an elite science emerging from well-known universities and corporate research centers. Media reports were overwhelmingly positive and based largely on speculation and opinion with fewer articles citing specific data or research methods. A small majority of articles presented NST as a natural progress within scientific fields, other articles argued that NST was necessary simply because nanoscale devices create efficiencies or because a nanoscale revolution was inevitable. NST was affiliated most closely with computer research, medical applications, and electronic applications. Rather than attempting to characterize media reporting of NST during this period in a single way, the authors conclude that NST was represented by multiple and competing frames. Sustained coverage of societal issues did not emerge until 2000 and this reporting was based entirely on opinion and speculation. The authors argue that in science writing, it is crucial that media reports be accurate, informative, and critical. While some of this responsibility passes to those providing source data for journalistic research, science writers must also recognize the role they play in explaining, critiquing, and legitimizing NST.
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