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Nano bubbles: how, when and why does science fail to correct itself?

Project description

Study explores why science is not necessarily self-correcting

Science relies on error correction to advance; however, erasing erroneous claims from the scientific record has been far from easy. The EU-funded NanoBubbles project will combine approaches from natural, engineering and social sciences and humanities to understand how error correction operates in science as well as the obstacles it faces. The focus will be on nanobiology, a highly interdisciplinary field that has seen multiple episodes of overpromising erroneous claims. Researchers will examine the claim that nanoparticles can cross the blood-–brain barrier and that they can penetrate the cell membrane. Furthermore, they will investigate the ‘protein corona’ concept that describes ordinary protein adsorption on nanoparticles. Project findings could prove useful for other highly interdisciplinary fields, such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence.


Science relies on the correction of errors to advance, yet in practice scientists find it difficult to erase erroneous and exaggerated claims from the scientific record. Recent discussion of a “replication crisis” has impaired trust in science both among scientists and non-scientists; yet we know little about how non-replicated or even fraudulent claims can be removed from the scientific record. This project combines approaches from the natural, engineering, and social sciences and the humanities (Science and Technology Studies) to understand how error correction in science works and what obstacles it faces, and stages events for scientists to reflect on error and overpromising.

The project’s focus is nanobiology, a highly interdisciplinary field founded around the year 2000 that has already seen multiple episodes of overpromising and promotion of erroneous claims. We examine three such “bubbles”: the claim that nanoparticles can cross the blood-brain barrier; that nanoparticles can penetrate the cell membrane; and the promotion of the “protein corona” concept to describe ordinary adsorption of proteins on nanoparticles. Findings based on error (non)correction in nanobiology should be generalizable to other new, highly interdisciplinary fields such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence.

We trace claims and corrections in various channels of scientific communication (journals, social media, advertisements, conference programs, etc.) via innovative digital methods. We examine error (non)correction practices in scientific conferences via ethnographic participant-observation. We follow the history of conferences, journals, and other sites of error (non)correction from the 1970s (before nanobio per se existed) to the present. And we attempt to replicate nanobiological claims and, in case of non-replication, document obstacles to correcting those claims. Finally, we will spark a dialogue within the nanobiology community by organizing workshops and events at c


Net EU contribution
€ 1 863 947,50
Avenue jean-baptiste clement 99
93430 Villetaneuse

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Seine-Saint-Denis
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (7)