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Home Chemistry An Endangered Hobby in U.S. 627

Disoculated writes "Wired is running an article entitled "Don't Try This at Home" discussing how that increasing paranoia about terrorism and liability is making it nearly impossible to become involved in any chemistry related hobby in the United States. Sure, the innovative will try to work around these types of limitations, but are we teaching our kids to be afraid of science?"
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Home Chemistry An Endangered Hobby in U.S.

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  • Management Culture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by monkaduck ( 902823 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:28AM (#15443378)
    We've become a management culture since the Cold War ended. The emphasis on science and technology has been replaced with an emphasis on managerial skills and the joys of outsourcing. And since the amount of money being spent on educating our young has diminished, and you often get the proverbial gym teacher teaching chem lab, is it any wonder why science scores are down?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:30AM (#15443387) Journal
    Sure, the innovative will try to work around these types of limitations, but are we teaching our kids to be afraid of science?
    No. At least, if you're afraid of terrorist witch hunts then it's your government telling you to be afraid of science, not the people.

    The liabilities incurred might come from local law enforcement if they think you're setting up a meth lab or it might even be your neighbor's kid comes over and breaths in some fumes that his asthma doesn't handle so well.

    A lot of the scenarios I'm thinking of involve the chemical and physical sciences. I don't think that being proficient in computer sciences will raise any government eyebrows unless you're doing something truly illegal. In the end, I think we're mostly seeing a decline in getting-your-hands-dirty simply due to the fact that it's a mess & Americans are pretty lazy. I personally work a lot and when I get home, I'm not in the mood to set up a particle accelerator. I think that the armchair sciences like computers, political, economic, statistics, mathematics, etc. will probably be the focus of new hobbiests.

    From the Wired article:
    The search was initiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency best known for instigating recalls of faulty cribs and fire-prone space heaters.
    Great, just one more federal agency for me to fear/hate. You just made the list, CPSC!

    As for the USAToday article entitled U.S. could fall behind in global 'brain race', I think that's crap. I'll quote a few parts of it and add my commentary:
    Last year, China graduated 500,000 engineers; India, 200,000; and North America, 70,000.
    One word, "population." How about you translate those figures into engineers graduated per capita? China = 500,000:1,306,313,812. India = 200,000:1,080,264,388. United States = 70,000:295,734,134. That's roughly 1:2612 for China, 1:5401 for India and 1:4224 for the United States. Those numbers aren't bad at all, especially if you took other countries. Now, if you want to argue about the rigor of the courses, I'd say that varies from place to place.
    The U.S. trade balance in high-technology goods fell from $33 billion in the black in 1990 to $24 billion in the red in 2004.
    Although this looks bad economically, I don't see how this relates to the topic at hand. In no way can you measure a country's education and gifted students.

    There was very little for me to agree with in this article.
  • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:32AM (#15443398) shouldn't be using the kinds of chemicals they were selling at home anyway. *I* wouldn't use those at home. It's not safe, as you will not have, at home, access to the proper safety equipment including proper fume hoods which would cost you at least tens of thousands of dollars to install. If you're not a chemist, you also won't have proper training and experience to deal with accidents that can become disasters.

    The submission asks whether people are afraid of science. The question should be, are people afraid to use caustic, explosive, and potentially fatal chemicals without safety procedures or training? I sure hope the answer is yes, and I would consider that a good thing.

  • Your attitude is precisely summed up in TFA:
    unreasonable fears about chemicals and home experimentation reflect a distrust of scientific expertise taking hold in society at large. "People who want to make meth [or weapons -wmf] will find ways to do it that don't require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster."
    You are willing to impoverish future generations in exchange for a false sense of security.
  • by Oldsmobile ( 930596 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:37AM (#15443416) Journal
    I suppose this is part of the project that has been going on for quite a while.

    That project of course is the "Dumbing Down of America" -project that started with politics and social sciences, then went on to encompass history, then geography and now I guess science is next.

    Makes sense I suppose.
  • by polyex ( 736819 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:39AM (#15443417)
    With a few sentences you have summed up a very serious problem with the USA. It makes you wish for another Soviet Union and and the days of the space race to get our ass in gear (perhaps China can soon fill this role of a worthy competitor?). Of course you will have lots of arguments for the current model of a giant brain suck, mostly the very people who could not achieve a Science degree because it was too hard and end up taking business. Outsourcing is simply incest.
  • by Tetard ( 202140 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:43AM (#15443433)
    Very slick in fact. Attack a country with low-tech means, and let the country overregulate itself, destroy its civil liberties, and generally make itself a bigger nuisance to its own citizens -- and its economy -- than what unsophisticated, guerilla-style terrorist groups could hope to achieve.
  • by BetaJim ( 140649 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:44AM (#15443438)

    The war on (some) drugs is also responsible for making chemistry a difficult hobby to persue. Many common chemicals are hard to get now days, red phosphorus for instance. In some states buying glassware requires a permit and jumping through other hoops (Texas is one such state I've read about.)

    I remember from reading biographies of of Thomas Edison and being amazed at the chemical lab he had as a teenager; it would be almost impossible for a kid now to learn and investigate chemistry like Edison did.

    What a sorry state of affairs this is for the inquisitive.

  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:44AM (#15443439)
    if they get their way they would gladly turn the USA in to a primitave backwards nation run by religious/superstitious whackos that are no better than the Taliban...

    to quote another's sig i read in here: "If God hates the same people you do then maybe you made God in your image"
  • Not that easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:49AM (#15443454) Journal
    "I don't think that being proficient in computer sciences will raise any government eyebrows unless you're doing something truly illegal."

    With the paranoia about evil hackers, and encryption having been already used as "proof of criminal intent" to convict someone, you never know how long that'll last.

    And witch hunts for computer geeks have already happened, e.g., in the wake of Columbine and the like. Suddenly every introverted nerd in some schools, or god forbid self-confessed computer gamer, was dragged before the principal or in some cases before the police. I knew someone from the USA who allegedly had major problems getting hired in his home town, and thus had to move, because that stigma never quite went away. Once he had been labelled as probably the next guy who'll shoot the school up, that small town never let go of that notion.

    And let's not forget that witch hunts usually target the unpopular members of the community, rather than the real witches/terrorists/etc. I'd wager that out of the about 2 million victims of the inquisition, at least a million were burned just because they were the unsocial ones that didn't fit the group. Or worse yet, told some community leader to fuck off.

    Nerds can make really unpopular neighbours. They're the ones who'd rather sit at a computer and do god knows what nefarious things than take part in the community gossip games. Even if not nefarious, at least they're "addicts" or whatever veiled insult.

    So if you think the next witch hunt can't target IT nerds, think again.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:50AM (#15443457)
    Afterall, it was chemicals that created the public outrage over Waco and Ruby Ridge. Over 100 civilians were massacred at Waco. The mainstream media, acting as the official propaganda wing of the state, didn't bother to tell anyone what federal law enforcement knew: david koresh walked into town 4 days a week to go to Wal-Mart. These incidents happened because the very agencies that want to restrict your right to make a science experiment decided to "make an example" out of people with "cowboy mentalities."

    To put it quite nicely, your government decided to pick a fight with armed people that might get a lot of people killed. The next time you see some politician calling for more state power, remember that. They want to make you more vulnerable to police brutality.

    Most of these tragedies and outrages could be prevented if...

    1) The federal government stuck to its enumerated powers, none of which include the legal power to regulate fireworks and the chemicals that go into them except in terms of interstate **sales**.
    2) Cops were required to do intelligence gathering before doing a raid. Funny how our "foot soldiers in the war on crime" can't be bothered to do the dirty work before doing the "fun stuff" like aim assault rifles at middle aged scientists and 80 year old couples accused of running meth labs.
    3) Cops couldn't carry any weapon that couldn't be owned without a permit by any citizen not serving prison time. There's an ugly correlation between gun control and police disrespect for everyone from poor blacks to middle class white people...
  • by speculatrix ( 678524 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:59AM (#15443492)
    summed up a very serious problem with the USA...perhaps China can soon fill this role of a worthy competitor

    don't worry about China becoming a competitor - we're already getting them to sign up to DRM, and once the number of lawyers there achieves critical mass, their society will also stagnate due to massively overburdening corporations and governments with beaurocracy.

    you see, you have to remember: the purpose of management, marketing, lawyers and government is not to serve, but to take control and expand... it's only when there's just one person left in the world doing real work and everyone else is either managing him/her or duking it out in court over whether that person is licensed to do the work, that we'll all wonder where it went wrong!

  • A great new age (Score:3, Insightful)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:01AM (#15443502)
    This will be a great new age. We will call it... the... ummm... Terrorism dark ages!

  • Re:good morning ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:09AM (#15443546)
    Everyone, I've got bad news. America has been cancelled. Yes, I know. But we had a good run. No government should really run past 200 years anyway. The episodes get old and stale. *golf claps*. Ok let's pack our things we're off to ruin Sweeden.

    It's a pity that we are in a terrorism dark age. I remember I cut my teeth in science doing somewhat explosive experiments. I don't think I would have had such an inquisitive mind had my only science been dropping a basketball and a baseball at the same time to see which falls first.
  • by thelizman ( 304517 ) <hammerattack AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:10AM (#15443550) Homepage
    This is rediculous. When I was a kid mixing sugar and potassium chloride, the last thing I gave a shit about was if it was legal or not to do so. In fact, most of my scientific explorations (blue boxing, hacking, amature explosives manufacturing) were decidedly not legal either in practice or end use. That was exactly what attracted me to them.

    What is this attraction to appealing to fear, uncertainty, and doubt among slashdot submissions lately? The world is not going to burn or freeze due to global warming, George W Bush doesn't give a shit about your personal phone calls, terrorists aren't hiding behind the counter at every 7/11, and the Internet is not being taken over by corporations. Get a grip people.
  • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:11AM (#15443561)
    You're right. It's not safe. You can get hurt. But taking all the risk out of life is even more dangerous.

    When I was young I did many stupid things, and I sure hope you did too. It's all part of growing up. When you take all the risk out of living, you're not only creating a race of bored couch potatoes, but you're also creating people who will do stupid things like mixing chlorine and ammonia while cleaning the toilet, and who will panic when things get out of hand.

    After all, play is in the first place a preparation for adulthood, it teaches common sense around danger. And common sense in these matters is something that seems to be lacking more and more these days.

    People who haven't had small accidents when they were young, will have big accidents when the are grown up.

  • So.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ArchAngelQ ( 35053 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:16AM (#15443585) Homepage Journal
    I guess it should be changed to:
    Sufficiently backward education makes technology indistinguishable from magic?
  • by kjart ( 941720 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:19AM (#15443599)
    Last time I checked, the United States was not the only country in North America. Perhaps the US should be more afraid of losing the geography race? :)
  • Zero risk society (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smchris ( 464899 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:21AM (#15443616)
    The well-meaning "If we can save just one child!" is the squishy soft underbelly of a police state.

    I actually met a chemistry teacher in the 80s who sprinkled the lab floor with explosive crystals so they would pop underfoot the first day of class -- and had a kid go home and fatally blow himself up making his own batch. Placing personal responsibility isn't entirely clear when dealing with kids. But it isn't like nobody has died in high school sports either, is it? Maybe the formula is something like the greater good of society weighed against the occasional loss of the _foolishly_ adventurous?

  • by Gadgetfreak ( 97865 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:22AM (#15443618)
    Most of my high school friends who were smart enough to persue science degrees never followed the directions on those things anyways. They just combined stuff together to see what happened. They did that with other chemicals, too, not just the ones in the kit.

    If people are interested in science, they'll try their own crazy stuff their own way. What should *really* be sold are safety kits... flame suits, face shields... I mean, who here hasn't made a flame thrower with an aerosol can, or a potato gun w/PVC pipe, or tried to make some homemade napalm from some rumor-recipe that didn't work?

        We did all kinds of microwave tricks in the dorm microwave in college 5 years ago... it wasn't terrorism, but we did make a stable plasmoid.

    And actually, just yesterday, my college friend asked me for copies of the microwave videos and any other pranks/explosions. (They were mostly harmless) The reason is that his wife is pregnant, and he wants to make sure his kid is brought up right.
    After all, you don't want to blow the door off your *own* microwave...
  • by Jim_Callahan ( 831353 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:27AM (#15443643)
    Nah, it's a restriction of knowledge. Dumbing-down is the widespread acceptance of very much oversimplified models as the entire truth of the matter, like genetics/eugenics in the early century (didn't end well), evolutionary theory (didn't end well... for college applicants from Kansas city, anyhow), and economic theory in the 90s (i like to call what most people think of as the "internet bubble bursting" the "bunch of stupid investors crash of the 90s"). If most people just avoid the science, it doesn't really harm the people or the science (though it doesn't particularly help either). What I'm worried about is the masses embracing science and getting it wrong. Humility about our lack of knowledge, that's the key.

    In the case of chemistry, of course, this would self-correct a lot faster than eugenics was, as individual amateurs can kill themselves a lot faster with organic chemicals than a set of bureaucratic machinery can churn out obviously stupid laws. That doesn't necessarily make it immune, though. Idiots try to mix their own explosives all the time.
  • Software is next (Score:1, Insightful)

    by s800 ( 940543 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:35AM (#15443682)
    If you read this article, and said to yourself- well that's all great, but who the hell cares about chemisty? what a bunch of nerds; I'm happy with hacking away on my harmless computer... Think again. Software is next. Don't think so, eh?

    It's easy for me to imagine a day when knowing how to access hardware directly (OMG! I wrote a driver) could be seen as subversive. Or using a compiler that can do more than a few 1,000 lines of code may be useful for making fancy apps that can do things that people might not be able to wrap their minds around. Actually, it's probably not safe to give people technical documentation at all- we don't want people to be able to write software that could maybe, potentially do something bad or not understandable by someone with an 80 IQ.

    It realls seems as if you're not happy just waking up, driving to Wal*Mart for work and being yet another consumer of crap that the government is going to make some laws to prevent you from actually understanding and exploring the world we live in. God forbid we find something other than buying a box fan for $8.99 that may actually be intellectually satisfying.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:38AM (#15443695) Journal
    Absolutely. Anyone who doesn't go there in their American made SUVs is clearly a terrorist.
  • by speculatrix ( 678524 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:41AM (#15443715)
    So you're saying that they'll finally throw off the yoke of western cultural dominance and return to the way they were before Europeans arrived and screwed up their country?

    not quite - instead of the gov't controlling everything, it will be corporations & their lawyers - so it will all be possible in the name of free enterprise + democracy rather than simply oppressive despotic rulers. However, I think despotic governments might be preferable to the RIAA/MPAA because at least nearly everyone is treated equally as mere peons.

  • by fredg ( 69098 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:44AM (#15443731)
  • by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <brian@w y l f i n g . net> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:51AM (#15443784) Homepage Journal
    since the amount of money being spent on educating our young has diminished

    I do not dispute your conclusion (that the quality of education has been in decline), but this particular statement is false. The dollar figures for education have been rising every year. Despite how it is construed, getting a 15% increase instead of a 20% increase is not a budget cut when student enrollment remains flat (as it has for many years).

    I would argue instead that the money is simply misspent. When I was in K-12, the focus was on doing math problems, building vocabulary, and learning science and history. In other words, education. Now the focus is on shiny new buildings, universal Internet connectivity, self-esteem, and zero tolerance rules. When your main concern is that there is a "counselor" for every 3 students, and you're dumping real science education in favor of the FSM, you're very, very likely to produce the fat, contented, ignorant kids we have today.

    A money shortage is definitely not the problem here.

  • Hm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:52AM (#15443792) Journal
    I see everything in the comments ranging from "Americans are just getting too stupid" to (classic for /.) "it's teh Debbil George Bush and the demon Rove making this happen".

    Sure, lately it's wrapped in a 'fear of terrorism' cloak, but is this anything but the logically extrapolated point of where we've BEEN going for the last 50 years?

    Ever LOOK at a current chemistry set for say a young high-schooler? THEY SUCK. It's got these impenetrably child-proof capped chemical bottles, micro-amounts of anything, and very little in there more dangerous than sodium chloride.

    No, while I understand the propensity of shallow people (ala Wired) to turn this into a subject with which they can make conveniently trendy political attacks on an unpopular administration, the fact is that we've been turning into a litigiously-driven culture of fear for decades.

    (Tangentially but not irrelevant to the discussion is the world of our children. I don't know about you, but most of my model rocketry and early .... ahem ... pyrotechnic experiments were done by my friends and I with no adults around. Usually we flew our planes and rockets in a nearby meadow, while spending hours and hours unsupervised, roaming the neighborhood in summer. Having heard just this morning on the local news of a 13 year old boy being abducted and tortured for 7 hours by 2 men (and knowing our seive-like judicial system) - who's going to leave their kids unsupervised and unwatched for hours anymore?)

    You want people to go into the sciences? Fine: somehow make it so that if a stupid kid jabs himself with a pipette in the eye, he somehow doesn't get to sue the pipette manufacturer. Make it so that if Jenny wants to build a model rocket or airplane, she can fly it without fear of a multi-bajillion dollar suit if the rocket breaks cranky Mrs. Finster's bay window.

    Sometimes to learn, you have to have the freedom to experiment. Sometimes, the experiments can be mildly dangerous. In a society whose lawyers have designed it so that they can wring maximum financial gain, er, "justice" from every little risk, does it surprise ANYONE that this is having a stultifying effect on the sciences in the US?
  • Re:good morning ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:02AM (#15443866)
    Radioactive isotopes, burning lasers, uranium, heavy water.... is this what you expect high school science teachers are buying, and Mom and Dad put in little Timmy's chemistry set? These people aren't selling black powder and aluminum shavings to make fireworks, they're selling some serious shit that I don't necessarily want my neighbor to have mail-order access to, thank you very much.

    I presume you're American? In that case, your neighbour has access to firearms. If he wants to kill you, he'll do it with a gun, not with OMG TEH LASERS!!!

    I suspect that if you wanted to kill somebody with the uranium sold here, your best bet would be to bludgeon them to death with it; it's heavy stuff, uranium. Getting a critical reaction going is difficult, and I think somebody would notice if your neighbour started running a centrifuge farm or a bunch of calutrons to enrich his uranium. So would the power company, for that matter; they already spy on their customers to catch people running hydroponics farms, as part of the War On Some Drugs...

  • Re:good morning ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:03AM (#15443868) Journal
    If they want to shut down people who sell potentially deadly materials without a system in place to verify identity, I'd say that's not exactly limiting my freedoms, but protecting my life.

    You and every other coward who values false security over liberty.
    Congratulations, you and your ilk are killing America.
  • Re:great article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheGavster ( 774657 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:06AM (#15443891) Homepage
    If you truely can't do something harmless in your basement, then the people have lost.
  • Re:good morning ! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:19AM (#15443970) Journal
    You've seen their site, right?

    Yup - Even (gasp!) bought stuff from them.

    Radioactive isotopes, burning lasers, uranium, heavy water.... is this what you expect high school science teachers are buying, and Mom and Dad put in little Timmy's chemistry set?

    Little Timmy can't walk into a liquor store and buy a bottle of Absolut and a carton of Camels, either. Your point?

    None of the things sold by UN's site violate federal laws, or most state laws (most importantly, not my state and not their state, the only two that matter). If an adult wants to buy something with which they can blow their hands off or quite possibly kill themselves - Well, my friend, they need go no further than Walmart. If, however, someone wants to actually learn something in the process of blowing themselves up, Wallyworld doesn't accomodate that.
  • Re-run (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:32AM (#15444070) Homepage
    Happened to crypto in the 90s and communism in the 60s.

    Face it, americans just don't like thinkers.

    Tom :-)
  • Re:good morning ! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr Pippin ( 659094 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:33AM (#15444078)
    Apparently the most dangerous substance to possess in America, these days, is "grey matter".

    Even more importantly, the use and development of "grey matter".
  • by oni ( 41625 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:40AM (#15444127) Homepage
    Indeed. The *average* educational expendeture per student in the US is currently above $10,000 per year. As amazing as this sounds, it's actually cheaper to go to college - if you look at just tuition, the average cost of college is under 10K. Yet I'm sure we'd all agree that colleges do a better job than public schools. Why is that?? I believe it is because colleges have to compete with each other.

    Think of what you personally could do for your own child for $10,000 a year. I'm certain you could find a way to give him or her a quality education for that much money. Yet somehow, the public school system can't seem to make that happen. According to them, they need still more money. It's crazy.

    But the best part is, we are not going to fix it. We're not. Because we don't want to. If I even say the word voucher, some large portion of the people viewing this post will immediately stop reading. They don't even want to try. The only thing they are willing to try is "let's give the schools more money." Yeah, let's keep doing that year after year and see if anything changes. Ten years from now, we'll have this discussion again. The average cost per student will be $50,000 a year, and I'll ask, "what should we do to fix this" and the answer will be, "we have to give the schools more money omg!!"
  • by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:12AM (#15444448)
    Erlen-what? They don't use lab ware. They cook up meth in motel coffee makers []. It's a combination of left-wing nanny state and right-wing paranoia that's really killing us here.
  • by IAmTheDave ( 746256 ) <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:24AM (#15444585) Homepage Journal
    You're right. It's not safe. You can get hurt. But taking all the risk out of life is even more dangerous.

    Yes, but the day of risk taking is over. I did a lot of stupid things too, but the difference between you and me and the kid that didn't survive the accident is that that kid's parents have now lobbied Congress or local authorities to outlaw the very thing that killed their kids.

    Until we begin to accept again that there is indeed a level of acceptable losses, we'll forever be stuck in this overly-sterilized world.

    That's the very point of this article. Lessons are learned through taking risks, and without the ability to take risks and learn said lessons, people grow up more ignorant and in the end, more of a risk to themselves.

    You'll never truly know how long it takes to decelerate from 60mph until the first time you slam on your brakes, no matter how many times you've read it in a book. You'll never know how hot the stove actually is until the first time you burn yourself as a child, no matter how many times your parents have told you to not touch.

    Oh well...

  • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:27AM (#15444612) Homepage
    That my folks bought me to encourage my interest in science. It came with about 50 small containers of chemicals (like spice jars), a couple dozen test tubes, assorted pH strips, and a booklet with instructions on performing some basic experiments. I had a lot of fun cooking up different concoctions, making terrible smells (my mom eventually banished its use to the garage), and so forth.

    A few years later, digging through some older stuff in the garage, I came across the kit. I wanted to replenish some of the chemicals, but it turned out that the company that made the kit had gone out of business as some kid had managed to do something spectacularly destructive and sued the company out of existence.

    There are probably numerous reasons that chemistry kits are no longer readily available. One is probably that there are fewer folks interested in science. My guess is that with our entertainment culture, kids don't need to be as inquisitive about the world around them, since they're getting most of their information on TV. Liability is another important reason. Another is likely that a lot of kids with an interest in science (rational explanations for how things work) now get into computers.

    Fear of being charged with terrorism is just a convenient excuse for a much more troubling trend in society.
  • Re:A great new age (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skreems ( 598317 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:28AM (#15444624) Homepage
    Exactly. Only pirates will own mp3s, only hackers will own compilers (outside of the workplace), and only terrorists will own home chemistry sets. The age of the producer is falling, and soon you'll need to be licensed by a corporation before you can be anything but a good little consumer.
  • by bigpat ( 158134 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:34AM (#15444684)
    With a few sentences you have summed up a very serious problem with the USA. It makes you wish for another Soviet Union and and the days of the space race to get our ass in gear (perhaps China can soon fill this role of a worthy competitor?).

    Do we want to live in a society that needs to justify science in order to give it permission to exist? Science is its own justification, sometimes it will lead to useful tools to fight an enemy, but more often it won't. This article is about a return to a society based on fear of the unknown, a society which will dictate what is normal and require permission from the central authority for anything that is abnormal.

    We can no longer rely on liberals to fight for true freedom. Liberals have won the right to dress funny in public schools, have sex with whomever they want and read and write about everything that they care about. But everything else is slipping away.

    It is Your fault.

    Science cannot truly exist in a society that does not respect the Right to bear arms. Science is a weapon.
  • by dsci ( 658278 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:35AM (#15444688) Homepage
    I'd ask what these techniques are.

    Well, part of it is a mindset that comes from knowing that you are handling something dangerous. If you remove all the danger from a teaching lab (danger from fire, from acute toxicity, etc), you remove the mental aspect of "be careful."

    I've observed this trend over several decades. It is not that older chemists are more cavalier, it is that they tend to be more careful due to proper training. But with the confidence that comes from having that proper training, they are not afraid to handle things. Nowadays, many programs eliminate the danger from the curriculum, and thus eliminate the training in the form of the mindset required to handle very bad stuff. I've handled some of the most toxic substances man has ever known, but believe me, when I did, that was not the first time I handled something that could kill me instantly.

    The indoctination that has happened, imo, is one of 'safety first' according to some external definition. The problem is that the modern world tends to define the acceptable level as "no risk," which is impossible. A properly educated and trained chemist (either by formal training or by many years of garage experience, etc) knows how to weigh the risk and manage it. Talk to some of your older colleagues, those trained in the 1950's if you can pin them down, and ask them about the differences in how chemistry is taught today vs. then.

    The dilution of education is a bit alarming. This safety aspect is but one example.
  • Re:great article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qwijibo ( 101731 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:43AM (#15444788)
    Anyone who lives their life based on fear of the extreme cases is going to be miserable. At some point you just have to find the right balance of freak and normal behaviors. If you're doing a lot of things that may be borderline illegal, you probably want to also be a productive member of society. Appearances count. You don't have to like that, you just have to accept it.

    There are so many laws that everyone violates some of them. Most houses have chemicals that could be used in the production of meth or pipe bombs. If the police want to go after you, they can find something. If the DA wants to prosecute you, he just needs to give a subset of the available facts and tell a story that compels a jury to find you guilty. The defense has to explain why those facts are being used in a misleading way and tell a better story to get off.

    Amateur chemists need to understand that there is some potential risk in what they do. However, that is probably true of most hobbies. Nothing is completely safe. If you give someone a reason to investigate you, or just have bad luck, you'll have to justify your actions to someone who only cares about getting another prosecution, regardless of whether or not justice is served. The only way to avoid that is to do nothing and wait to die. Actually, that's would probably be suspect too. The chances of getting hauled off to a gulag are pretty small for people who aren't doing anything wrong. Like with all things in life, just do what you're going to do and hope the odds work in your favor.
  • by kailoran ( 887304 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:49AM (#15444860)
    in **AA/BSA-speak, getting a 15% increase instead of 20% would be called "a 25% loss"
  • Re:good morning ! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JTorres176 ( 842422 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:56AM (#15444936) Homepage
    I assume you're not american, your neighbor probably has access to rocks to bludgeon you to death
    OMG, teh Rox!!!
    Everything can be used as a deadly weapon against an individual, not everything can be used to slowly poison mass numbers of poeple quite as well as radioactive materials with proper placement. Here in the old US of A, pot farms survive for years pulling in thousands of dollars a month in power bills for their lights and irrigation systems because power companies *gasp* are a business making money and don't give a shit, as long as Joe-Bob Hooch-Farmer pays his power bill that is.
    Of course I remember the story of the radioactive boy scout [] who, in an attempt to provide a really neat experiment for a science project, damn near killed his family and neighbors out of common household radioactive products. Of course, he had to collect mass amounts of radioactive materials on his own instead of just buying them over teh intraweb.
  • Re:good morning ! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by patchvonbraun ( 837509 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @11:21AM (#15445257)
    If your neighbour wants to kill you, or your neighbourhood, they'd spend their money much more wisely by buying a few Kg of Warfarin at Wal-Mart or the local farm supply store. UN sells uranium ore. Big fat hairy deal. There are many of places where you can buy uranium ore, both in the "brick 'n mortar" world, and the online world. You'd be at it a very long time to process enough of it to make anything truly dangerous. And out quite a bit of coin, too. You can buy high-power lasers all over the net. UN doesn't have any kind of monopoly on high-powered lasers. Heavy water? I'm not sure what you'd use it for, but it isn't a particularly dangerous thing to have in your possession. More of a coffee-table curiosity than anything else. You should perhaps re-examine that phrase you used "potentially deadly materials without a system in place to verify identity". So, next time I'm at the metal store, they should verify my identity before I buy a 2ft piece of 2" cold-rolled steel. I could, after all, be planning to bludgeon somebody to death with it, and it's good to have an audit trail in place, should that ever be my evil plan. Better be safe and record everybody, all the time, for any kind of transaction of any kind. Just in case. In a country where children can buy guns and ammo at the local department store, I find it hard to understand why people are getting paranoid about a few mildy-interesting chemicals. Of course, the lay public generally regards CHEMICALS, OMG, CHEMICALS, as some kind of inherently-evil thing. Most folks, if asked whether they'd let their child put OMFG, Sodium Chloride, on their french fries would probably say "never! Are you some kind of monster?". But they're perfectly willing to buy the same substance from the grocery store, innocuously labelled as "Table Salt". That same table salt can easily be turned into a much-more-interesting powerful oxidizer, using a simple do-it-at-home process. Perhaps we need to register all purchases of table salt now. And charcoal. Oh, and trees, since you can easily turn trees into charcoal using a very common process. And since the urine of mammalian species can easily be turned into mixed nitrates, we'd better ban urine as well. Everybody cross your legs :-)
  • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @11:39AM (#15445466)
    ... it's the 'nannies' in society that are responsible for this particular raid. The same slugs who want everyone to wear a bicycle helmet, not smoke within 25 feet of a doorway, sit through an 8 hr. class to be able to legally drive a boat, and ban Legos because they have small parts that kids might *choke* on.

    Also the same people who have blocked construction of new nuclear power plants consistently over the past 25 years - so the US is still mostly using reactors designed in the 50s/60s that are considerably less safe than what we can make today.

    Life in a free society entails some dangers. But let's think about this: let's say that 12 people a year are killed by amateur chemistry set explosions and make the headlines, causing people to clamor for the banning of chemistry sets. Does anyone think about the 120 people per year saved by a new antibiotic developed by someone who started out playing with a chemistry set as a child? The consequences of actions aren't always simple and obvious, and the sooner people realize that, the better.

    Cheers, -b.

  • I realize you're saying this in jest, but a better second part of that statement would be, "Only corporations will do chemistry." I don't like sounding like an anti-business reactionary, but we're seeing more and more of these situations where due to liability, licensing, and security concerns, only large businesses are seen as capable and 'trustworthy' enough to persue technological advancement.

    Which is crazy, of course, because corporations are bound by design to be interested only in developments with visible returns on investment and restricted only by the ethical constraints that may get said corporation sued. There's no interest in investigating random or merely 'interesting' things that can produce the really interesting and exciting diamonds in the rough of unexpected discovery.

    The amount of resources to do research can be remarkably small. The tools to run a small bacterial lab can be aquired for a few thousand dollars, and a chemical lab costs about the same (used centrifuge, a bunch of glassware, thermometers, agitators, water baths, etc). Sure you won't be doing DNA sequencing, but you can maybe make your own superglue or discover a bacterium that has interesting soil-fixing properties. The tools that Pastuer used won't cost you very much in today's market. But you'll never be able to get insurance or convince your local newspaper that you're legit because you don't have a quarterly report.

    Are we willing to trust all our future scientific advances to the same people that want to put DRM in movies?
  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @12:05PM (#15445768) Journal
    I have struggled with this for some time now. I'm in my late 40s. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, therefore. Come summertime, we hit the door at about 7 or 8 in the morning, and didn't show back up 'til sundown (we took sandwiches or lunch money so we could cut the cord to the house for the day).

    However, when my own children were growing up in the 80s and 90s, things had begun to change quite radically.

    Now, with my grandchildren living with us, my wife and I have an ongoing argument about their play activities.

    She just doesn't want our five and seven year old grandsons to go outside at all without supervision. They must stay in the front yard, aren't allowed to even go down the street to play with other kids their age.

    So they stay inside mostly and watch a lot of TV--and eat.

    I continually hound her about leaving them alone, letting them go out and PLAY, but "it's too dangerous out there" is her refrain.

    Of course, it probably IS more dangerous--but the chances of their coming to harm from sexual predators or what-have-you are still infinitessimal. Yet they ARE coming to deliberate harm from their sedentary lifestyle!

    In good part, I blame the 24-hour news cycle promulgated by Ted Turner et al. With so much time to fill up, you get to hear ad nauseum about this or that serial killer, or child rapist, or whatever. This leads to a grossly distorted view of what's going on in the world, and it makes everyone AFRAID.

    Personally, I'm surprised that anyone still BUYS chemistry sets for their kids. After all, didn't we see a story on CNN the other day about some kid burning himself?

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @12:07PM (#15445805) Journal
    Maybe you said something bad about the government. Maybe you also have chemicals that could be used to make bombs in your house. All of a sudden, things are not looking so good. Essentially what you are saying, whether you know it or not, is that to be an amateur chemist you have to give up your right to piss off the government. Is this still and extreme case? Probably. More than likely, most amateur chemists who criticize the government won't have their lives ruined. Is that good enough? No. Will this have a chilling effect both on amateur chemsitry and free speach? Yes, and that is why it is bad.
  • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @12:08PM (#15445813)
    Did you look at the list of chemicals these people are selling? It wasn't crap like acetic acid. It was things like perchlorates.

    Explosives? No, just powerful oxidizers. But, then again, you can (or could?) buy SolidOx over the counter at many welding supply shops. As the name implied, SolidOx is a solid oxidizer for welding purposes that could be used to make explosives if you really wanted to.

    Face it - some people will find a way to kill themselves! And the 0.0001% of the population that happen to be psychopaths will also find ways to kill/maim/manipulate others. The solution is to arrest and try those people if they do happen to do their worst, and either jail them for a long time or execute them.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 01, 2006 @12:12PM (#15445855)
    "arms" comes from arma which is Latin for "weapons". It applies to anything from a sword to a trebuchet to, oh yeah, "nuclear arms".

    Now that we've gone past the usual leftist revisioning of the 2nd amendment because they're scared of anything phallic shaped, like bullets, we can continue talking about things that go boom.
  • by oni ( 41625 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:57PM (#15448119) Homepage
    Imagine that you're the emperor of the universe. You get to decide what school we're going to send these 100 kids to. You have two options:

    Option A, we send the 100 kids to school A. 50 of them will learn to read. 50 of them will not.

    Option B, we send the 100 kids to school B. 75 of them will learn to read. 25 of them will not. All 100 of them will learn the four tenets of Buddhism [].

    So, which school do you send them to? What is better for them? If you reject option B out of hand, you strike me as very intolerant and shortsighted. OMFG! The horror! Someone might have an opinion that differs from yours! OMFG! We can't have that!!

    Personally, I'm an atheist. I'm just not threatened by people who believe in spaghetti monsters or whatever. What matters to me is that in addition to believing in spaghetti monsters, they also have the educational background to make our society work. The situation that we have right now is *worse* than belief in spaghetti monsters.

    If you're worried about evolution not being taught, let me put your mind at ease. For vouchers to work, there would have to be yearly standardized tests, and any school where kids are not being taught evolution would not be allowed to take vouchers. Such a school would go out of business. What this means is, it would absolutely impossible for a school to refuse to teach evolution. What this means is, I could guarantee you that no matter what school a kid went to, they would receive an education that met a certain standard - guaranteed. But I know, that doesn't "put your mind at ease" because I know that the real problem here isn't your deep heart-felt concern for our educational system, the real problem is your intolerance (of people who are wrong).

    I imagine you as the pilot of an airplane with engine trouble. The copilot (that's me) points out that we could land at Microsoft International Airport, but you angrily shake your head. "HELL NO! I'M NOT LANDING AT NO MICROSOFT NOTHING! FORGET IT! THAT'S OUT OF THE QUESTION!!" And while you're hemming and hawing and screaming about your own bright shining self righteousness the plane crashes. Congratulations. Great job.

    The US public education system is an abject failure. That's a fact. And you wont even consider solving the problem.

    How about this. What if we instituted vouchers along with the requirement, "for a school to receive voucher money, it cannot teach any kind of religious course."

    I bet you'd oppose that too. And that basically proves my point.
  • Forbid water! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by flibuste ( 523578 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @06:40PM (#15449334)

    It's easy to extract hydrogen and oxygen from water, with a little bit of electricity. Hydrogen is a good explosive and only requires a tiny spark to blow off, as we all learned in chemistry labs.
    Are they going to also prevent from using water? How about free beer?

    This is insane.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas