28 November, 2013

Chemophobia I

The topic of chemophobia (the fear of chemicals) has come up in the chemistry blogosphere quite often in recent times. Here, for example, is Janet D. Stemwedel at Scientific American, asking what's the problem with chemophobia and why should chemists care and what response we should have.

ChemBark has written on the topic several times and has also addressed the question "…is it[chemophobia] really a problem? Who cares if the public dislikes chemicals? So long as chemists know better, we will continue doing good science. Why should we be distracted by general ignorance?".
Answer. Quote: "For a democracy...to function efficiently, the electorate must be educated and informed. The steady decline of chemistry’s public image is a massive problem, because it erodes support for our field."

Plenty of other blogs touching on chemophobia here, here and here, and here.

The most high profile discussion of chemophobia is now up on the BBC website. Mark Loach has a 15minute radio programme (Hmmm not sure if readers outside the UK will be able to listen to that. Just read the article if you can't - it's pretty much word for word) and an article which go into areas such as the definition of chemophobia, the usefulness of "bang, crack, fizzzz" chemistry demonstrations in sparking an interest in chemistry amongst young people (see my previous post on crack bang wallop demonstration I attended in Cambridge), and why physics or biology, for example, do not elicit similar fears in the general public. One of his most interesting metaphors was that a "sodium + water = bang!" demonstration he saw carried out by his grandad, was only "fuel" for his interest in chemistry. It was not the "spark", which for him came later in life. This fuel alone is not sufficient to ignite an interest in chemistry, he argues. We should concentrate more on the "little girl at the back of the room with her hands over her ears" and not just on the "boys at the front cheering and applauding" (paraphrased).

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