Thursday, February 01, 2007

The vast dross of nano writing

There is a plethora of authors, journalists and opinion writers who have been galvanized by the growing "nano" phenomena and have decided to enrich us all with their vast wisdom.

Too bad they're all a bunch of slackers.

The A to Z of Nano website linked above has a library of poorly written material. In this example their analogies are only roughly similar to the actual things they are trying to describe. Top down design is likened to sculpting but what they are actually describing is merely the methodology of subtractive manufacturing when in fact many forms of additive top down technologies exist. Their description of bottom up design is equally spongy in its impreciseness.

Ray Kurzweil's book "The singularity is near" is another example of writing that is perforated with numerous inaccuracies. In several sections when he describes quantum computing he does us the egregious injury of confusing superposition with entanglement, for example. His mathematical projection of trends are similarly riddled with assumptions and errors. But he goes ahead and informs us with "factesque" assuredness that a number of events are going to come to pass.

Despite a recent French panels complaint that "the subject of nanotechnology is too technical" these sort of writings help no one and create tremendous opportunities for harm by being misleading and confusing. I think it's the confusion that the French panel objects to, not the technicality. With a little effort anyone can familiarize themselves with a technical issue be it legal or scientific. But if the writing is confusing or leads to results that run contrary to our common sense then we will have great difficulty learning about them.

And perhaps that difficulty ultimately explains a subconscious motivation on the part of writers who prefer ideas over precision.

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