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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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  • by brookesy ( 879851 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:23AM (#15443356)
    read a few days ago, great article. makes me wanna buy some explosives !
    • A great new age (Score:3, Insightful)

      This will be a great new age. We will call it... the... ummm... Terrorism dark ages!

    • Um, in all seriousness, it seems like the only home chemists these days are cooking meth.
      • Well really that's the only home chemestry that pays.

        Something tells me the little old lady next door doesn't need anything titrated.
    • Re:great article (Score:2, Informative)

      by ccarson ( 562931 )
      Maybe now, considering the heightened tension, it wouldn't be the best idea to mix chems in your basement. If chemistry was your hobby and authorities did begin questioning you about your past time, it may help to back up your work with documentation and your membership to the local chem club. Definitely, don't start mixing chems that make bomb making substances. In the end, if worst comes to worse, you could argue your case in front of a jury comprised of citizens like yourself. As flawed as our court syst
      • Re:great article (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheGavster ( 774657 )
        If you truely can't do something harmless in your basement, then the people have lost.
  • good morning ! (Score:3, Informative)

    by jesusfingchrist ( 853886 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:26AM (#15443371) Homepage
    From TFA :

    Suddenly police officers and men in camouflage swarmed up the path, hoisting a battering ram. "Come out with your hands up immediately, Miss White!" one of them yelled through a megaphone, while another handcuffed the physicist in his underwear. Recalling that June morning in 2003, Lazar says, "If they were expecting to find Osama bin Laden, they brought along enough guys."

    The target of this operation, which involved more than two dozen police officers and federal agents, was not an international terrorist ring but the couple's home business, United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order outfit that serves amateur scientists, students, teachers, and law enforcement professionals.

    • 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.
  • 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 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 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!

        • by Jim_Callahan ( 831353 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:06AM (#15443529)
          "will also stagnate due to massively overburdening corporations and governments with beaurocracy"

          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? (Apologies to Chinese readers, but I couldn't resist.)
          • 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.

        • hmmm ... I'd always pondered 'What will the people be doing, one day when robotics are performing essentially 100% of the physical labour?'

          now I know: Managing Lawsuits!

      • by alexhs ( 877055 )
        (perhaps China can soon fill this role of a worthy competitor?)

        Perhaps not... All your base allready are belong to them.

        You know that when you see "Made in China" on your typical US product. And they're putting Gremlins in those products, you know.

        That's why US government don't want Lenovo computers. They know that perfectly, but they're hiding the existence of Gremlins to the general public. I fear there's a bigger conspiracy than Roswell here...
    • by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <brian&wylfing,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.

      • 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 MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:54AM (#15444278) Journal
          Why is that?? I believe it is because colleges have to compete with each other.

          Maybe that is a factor. The larger factors are 1) Generally folks in college want to be in college. If a person doens't like school, he generally won't enroll in college, or will get himself flunked out quickly. 2) With college, it is your money, coming out of your pocket in many cases. My experience hass been that students who are paying their own way outperform (as a whole) over those who have mommy and daddy paying their way (as a whole). Competition, in my mind, is a tetrary reason for colleges getting a bigger bang for the buck.
  • by samsonov ( 581161 ) <pennacook.hotmail@com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:29AM (#15443385) Journal
    Well, while conventional chemistry might have gone the way of the rotary phone, there are still those playing with chemicals in their houses - how about all those meth labs [streetdrugs.org]?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT 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.
    • 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.
    • 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!

      personally, I would say that the CPSC is well outside it's jurisdiction...

    • 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? :)
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:07AM (#15443900) Journal
      I don't know how is the trend on the other side of the Atlantic, but here, in Paris, last time I went to a Fnac (a bookshop akin to Virgin Megastore, with less music and more books) asking for a mathbook (had to re-read some courses) I was given a strange look and redirected toward the 'science' books, in the 'philosophy' shelves. Gaaah!
  • by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:32AM (#15443398)
    ...you 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.

    • 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.

      Read the entire article. It talks about lots of aspects about how society has come to fear chemistry - this quote about the decline of labs in schools made for particularly depressing reading for me:

      More than half of the suggested experiments i

    • by Flying pig ( 925874 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:57AM (#15443480)
      Speaking as a former technical director and designer of chemical plant, for the sort of quantities and hazards that home experiments produce fume extraction would NOT cost tens of thousands of dollars. You can home build a garage extractor system for a few hundred dollars (and if you work on cars it is useful for extracting e.g. degreaser fumes) which has enough capacity and exhaust velocity to handle solvents.

      You can in fact go out and buy caustics (sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide) from the local hardware store, supermarket or builder's merchant. You can accidentally create chlorine gas quite easily using common household products. You can buy lethal poisons almost anywhere. It would be BETTER if more people had practical chemical experience because at the moment Joe Public is mostly totally unaware of the risks he runs. He is afraid of "acid" because he does not know that acidity alone is harmless. He is unafraid of bleach, caustics, solvents, and any alkali which comes in a brightly coloured plastic box. And your solution is?

    • Speaking as a chemical engineer, designing the failsafes is half of the fun. That is all.
    • 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.

      • 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...

    • In my opinion, if no harm is done then it should be Okay. People should be assumed innocent until proven guilty, and assumed to be responsible until observed or proven otherwise.

      The people that say, "you can't have dangerous chemical because you might not handle them safely" might very well next say, "You can't climb mountains because you might fall off", and "you can't play football because you might blow out your knee"

      We should assume that adult citizens can protect themselves and let them be responsibl
    • ..you shouldn't be using the kinds of chemicals they were selling at home anyway.

      Now, thats not fair. It should be up to the one ordering the chemical to determine what they need. They were supplying to many people, myself included. Have you ever had a budget in school for a lab experiment, had it run out, and go out to get the reagents needed?

      And as for danger, who here as a child didn't add iodine crystals (made with the instructions from the Golden Book of Chemistry) and add it to ammonia, take the
  • Or Electronics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:33AM (#15443402) Homepage Journal

    I recently looked into buying a dc-dc converter to run my laptop in a plane. These things are pretty expensive and my guess is that I could build one for $20 AUD or so.

    The problem is that airport security people are not going to believe that my bundle of components in a jiffy box which I soldered up myself is not a bomb, whereas the proper device from the shop at four times the price at least looks legit.

    Then I wondered what it is going to be like in the near future where the flight control system probably runs windows CE or similar and I rock up to business class and start some software which I wrote myself.

    Software may be a terrorist weapon soon. Will people who roll their own be viewed with suspicion?

    Which takes me back to a trip to Adelaide last year with my family. Coming back I put my laptop in the checked in baggage (inside a suitcase), probably not a good idea. I carry it on these days. Before boarding an announcement came on that they had to change a wheel or something. This is Adelaide and you can see the plane right outside the windows and I didn't see any wheel changing going on.

    To cut a long story short when I tried to boot up mandrake at home in Melbourne that laptop was flat as a 20 year old leaky dry cell. No way would it show any lights without a power supply.

    Now the airlines tell you not to run your laptop while landing and taking off. Did this laptop run for three hours in the terminal + plane + terminal + my place because some security guy didn't know how to shut down linux?

    • Re:Or Electronics (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MrSquirrel ( 976630 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @07:49AM (#15443455)
      The TSA apparently thought my computer (in an Antec SuperLANboy aluminum case) was a bomb -- they ripped off the heatsink and processor and pulled the video card out of its AGP slot (while it was still screwed in). Not to mention the once-shiny case with an easy-to-see-through side window panel now has tons of scratches and dents on it from them improperly trying to open it (it appears they tried prying it open with a screwdriver -- there are 2 thumb screws on the back [can you say "duhhhh"]). Seems like airport security people are monkeys who couldn't tell a bomb from someone's mom. Still haven't seen any money for it either.
      • Re:Or Electronics (Score:5, Interesting)

        by courtarro ( 786894 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:57AM (#15444318) Homepage
        It makes you wonder what their real goal was, given the guise of "we think it might have been a bomb". If you really think something in a mysterious (to you) box is a bomb, why on earth would you pry it open and start pulling things apart, clearly with no real understanding about electronic devices?

        If your job is to open things up and find bombs, then what's stopping you from simply opening up everything, even if every common sense bone in your body says "this is a legitimate product, not a bomb"? After all, this is just some traveller's crap, not mine. The whole thing reaks of undertrained staff who are not properly overseen and managed, and who have no deterrent from their superiors against unnecessary searches.

        Then again I think it's possible that they do this sort of thing as retaliation against travellers who confuse them; as punishment for people who try to travel with devices that they can't understand. They're subtly saying "if you want to be different, which makes our job more complicated, we're going to make your life more complicated. This guy thinks he's hot snot and probably makes more than me - I'll show him."

      • Re:Or Electronics (Score:5, Interesting)

        by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @10:54AM (#15444914) Homepage
        Speaking as a prior TSA screener, I must say I am only a little surprised, though, surprised just the same.

        Procedures call for opening and searching baggage. Equipment is tested only on the outside and if an alarm cannot be resolved the situation is escallated to someone who can make further decisions on the matter. Dismantling equipment is NOT part of TSA training or instruction. That said, I don't recall that they are instructed to NOT do that either. I think perhaps making them understand a list of things NOT to do would be pretty effective in such situations.

        The personalities of the people in TSA are quite varied but I tend to limit them to a few categories:

        1. I just want a government job [so I don't have to work...] AKA I don't really care

        These people are the least threatening to property, freedom or anything else. They don't care. Not much more to say about it than that.

        2. I'm a patriot and I'm the first line of defense against terrorism!

        These people are confusing "first line" with "most important line." The TSA, at least as far as airport security is concerned, should act only as a loose filter to help ensure air travel safety. These people really think they are searching for Bin Laden in baggage and in people's pockets! "Overzealous" would be the best words to describe these people. The most positive thing I could say about them is that they would do their job for free.

        3. Wannabe Cop!

        This is a separate category from the #2 group in that they look at everyone as if they were a criminal with criminal intent. They wear their cloth badges and patches with pride and only feel weakened by not be allowed to wear a firearm. If they were qualified to actually BE a cop, they would... so we already know they have some inherent deficiencies that would disqualify them from actually BEING a cop. Let your imagination go wild and you're still probably not too far from the truth where it comes to their psychological disposition.

        4. I'm just doing this because I can't get any other jobs

        I was a member of this category. I did my job. I did it as well as I could under the circumstances. I mostly just followed rules and tried to mind my own business... I learned to do this only after I attempted to assert myself when I saw things that were "wrong" for correction and failed. After learning how pointless it is, I continued my job search and eventually got back into my career. I knew a lot of people in the same boat back then.

        Now as far as personal property damage and such, I have to say that it's not as common as you're making it out to be. However, you do need to keep escallating the issue if it's important to you. There is always someone higher to contact about the issue until, frankly, they are tired of hearing from you and will eventually resolve the situation to your satisfaction. I don't know how the denial of claims is determined only because I've never seen a denial before.

        It also helps to question them about their documented procedures. They will claim that their procedures are not available for public disclosure. That's essentially true. But if you catch them in a lie, you've got some leverage. You can ask specific questions about whether or not something they did was part of standard operating procedure or not. They will either confirm or deny whether it's part of procedure... you might have to press the issue. I'd be a little surprised if they didn't answer the question and resorted to "we can neither confirm nor deny..."

        Good luck to all who reported similar problems. And YES, don't trust valuables to your luggage. That has been true since before the TSA was conceived. Frankly, when I'm travelling overseas and I want to bring some snazzy souvenirs or products home with me, I'd just as soon SHIP it to myself. It's often more reliable and less prone to damage and needless inspection. Plus, there are more definite ways to insure your shipment against theft and damage.
    • I still remember hauling a new US Robotics modem in my luggage when I was in college. Can't say I remember why, but there you go, I'm hauling a modem through the airport. Now those modems back then weren't the kind of funky plastic boxes you get nowadays. This particular one was a sleek black steel box with LEDs and a switch.

      Let's just say that not only I got pulled to the side and asked to explain what that thing is. Then I hauled by the police to some machine that, as far as I can guess, was a sorta giant
  • 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 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.
  • Chemistry supports terrorism.

    You're not a chemist are you?
  • 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"
  • 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...
  • Chemistry sets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:09AM (#15443545) Journal
    It was probably the early '80's or so when I think chemistry sets were at their peak of popularity. I used to get up on Saturday morning, grab my bike, and go yard-sale hunting looking for chemistry sets. In my mind, I figured no one set would give you enough stuff to do anything dangerous, but if I were clever enough to get multiple sets from multiple companies, then maybe I could actually find a good chemical combination that would be more interesting than turning blue looking water to green looking water. On a good day, I could come home with 2 or 3 nearly-complete sets.

    Sadly, I was never able to find a combination that was truly worthy. About the worst I was able to do was to give the bathtub a purple stain that no amount of scrubbing was going to get rid of (and believe me... Mom had me try).

    It is kind of sad to think that my son will probably never do anything similar (of course if he does, I'll smile and my wife will be making him scrub the tub).

  • by thelizman ( 304517 ) <hammerattack@nOspAM.yahoo.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.
  • You can never go wrong buying your child a crystal-radio set. It's a great way for him or her to learn about crystal radios.

    If one of your children is killed playing with a chemistry set, make a game of it by challenging your surviving children to reanimate him or her.

    It's amazing how much kids can learn about chemistry the old-fashioned way. As soon as you get home from work, demand that they mix you an Old-Fashioned.

    Regarding other toys..

    To determine a toy's safety, try these simple tests:
  • 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?
  • Most of your perceptions about the government are derived from eagerations of the press and entertainment cops TV shows. This also appies to 90% of the parents in the US who won't lets their kids play outdoots because of all the psychos and wackos waiting behind the hedges to abduct and molest their stupid kids. Wake up folks. Life has inherent risks and you need to learn to manage those risks.
  • 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...
  • Home Alchemy An Endangered Hobby in U.S.
  • This is more proof in my mind that ALL the problems in todays society are not do to the access to chemicals or drugs or guns but the right (privilege) to breed. There would be no need for lawsuits or restrictive laws on 98% of these things if dumbasses were not allowed to have children.

    "I'm sorry sir but this is the third time you've managed to star on "Cops", place your testicles on the ground and back up slowly with your hands in the air."

  • by BigDogCH ( 760290 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:41AM (#15443714) Journal
    In the last year, I have done a few very fun "mad scientist" things with my siblings (no kids yet). At least once per month I try to come up with something that they won't get at school, or elsewhere. Anything to try and teach them to not fear science.

    We play with dry ice a lot. The kids are young (all around 7), so our projects are often very simple. Just having a pail of water with a few pieces of dry ice in the bottom bubbling up was enough to scare most of the neighbors and adult family members. They think I am endangering everyones lives. Luckily my elementary teacher wife explains to them all that everything is fine (in terms most of them can understand)

    Last week we played with borax and elmers glue. It makes for some fun textures. They are a bit young to fully grasp some concepts of what is happening on a molecular level, but I think they do get the general idea (I like Lego analogies).

    Now that summer is here, we can probably do some fun stuff outside. Maybe blow up some pop bottles with dry ice. Hopefully I don't end up in guantanamo considering it is now classified as a terrorist weapon. Lucky for me, my stay at guantanamo can be endless and without a trial! Wahoo....life in prison for playing with liquid c02!!!!

    Anyone have any other simple, cheap, and education little home ideas (for my crew targetted at age 7-10, though anything would be nice)?
  • by mmarlett ( 520340 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:45AM (#15443738)
    In this same vein, I came across a torrent for a great book just a few days ago (perhaps on Boing Boing): 1960's "The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments" [mininova.org] -- which is a phenomenal read. It's just what it sounds like: a children's chemistry text book. But it tells you how to do all the basic science that freaks out the government. It's an interesting slice of the era, too. It's all "yea, pesticides" and the nuclear future. It is, apparently, the book that inspired that kid in California to try to build his own breeder nuclear reactor.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:49AM (#15443765) Homepage
    I view this with great alarm.

    One of the things that has bothered me for a long time is that educators and policy-makers don't seem to understand the crucial educational role of unstructured, unsupervised, childrens' activity, from, say, about age 7 to 14.

    Teachers think they're doing the teaching, when really they're building on a foundation that the child has laid on his- or her-own. You have to develop the readiness yourself Only when you're interested in something and have tried to figure it out for yourself and failed, are you ready to absorb "the answer."

    This applies to all fields, of course. Athletics coaches can't do much for a kid who didn't spend hundreds and hundreds of hours in the backyard tenaciously pitching a baseball over and over and over and over and over again.

    But it's particularly true in the sciences.

    A lot of the stuff kids do is dangerous and would be frowned on if adults really knew what they were doing. When I crushed vacuum tubes in bench vises, I could have cut myself on the broken glass or got something in my eye. God only knows what that sticky goop was--sort of combined the properties of Vaseline and rubber cement--that was inside some potted telephone transformers my buddy and I opened. We used to throw it at each other because it was so darned hard to get off.

    Even the stuff that is not dangerous, at the exploratory stage seems so non-educational and misguided that no supervising adult would be let a kid pursue it. I read the explanations of how a transistor worked in "Popular Electronics." From everything I read, it seemed to me that, well, a transistor was just two diodes back-to-back, right? And, well, a battery was basically like a diode, right? (Wrong, of course, but at a certain age it seems plausible. I mean it made current flow in one direction, right?) Like an alchemist or a perpetual-motion inventor, I spent literally weeks tinkering with 1.5-volt batteries connected plus-to-plus with 9-volt transistor radio batteries, adding resistors and so forth, and trying to get my lashups to amplify. I was certain that I was on the brink of a new discovery and that I was about to get it to work any day now. I even had a name for it. I was going to be the inventor that gave the world the "Chemistor."

    I probably learned more NOT getting my "Chemistor" to work than I did building Heathkits which did work.

    A few months ago NPR was doing a restrospective of "Fresh Air" interviews, and Terry Gross was interviewing Grandmaster Flash, the rap artist. Holy cow! He was a nerdy basement tinkerer just like me... sort of. He would prowl the alleys for thrown-out radios and audio gear, and spent a lot of time building his own audio consoles that had the features he needed for what he was doing.

    I often thing the most underrated social injustice is the different self-educational opportunities available to kids who live in a house with a basement versus kids that live in an apartment.

    Biology? I never really "got" biology. Why? Because I was doing my basement tinkering with batteries and wires.

    My wife, well, one day when she was a kid, her mother comes into the kitchen. There is a dead chicken on the kitchen table. There is a bottle of preserving fluid. My wife is using a pair of tweezers and is picking lice off the chicken and dropping them in the bottle. My wife's mother says, "Oh, dear. Sweetie, couldn't you manage to be interested in butterflies instead?"

    My wife, she "gets" biology.
  • 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?
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @08:59AM (#15443840)
    That's what it comes down to. If you're supposed to have some chemical, some copany is already doing it by the ton. Making it yourself is most likely more costy than simply buying it.

    Now, there's also the "illegal" part. Namely explosives and drugs. So yes, the government has a definite interest in keeping its people dumb, or at least educate them only in a fashion suitable for the government. Pol Pot forgot that last part. It's been refined now. Someone who does not know how to create a problem is no problem.

    You see the same development in IT. Fewer and fewer people know how to program (I mean program. NOT writing code! I mean knowing how the things work, not knowing how to write a few lines of code and rely on the magic of the compiler). Thus fewer and fewer people are able to actually make things work in a "non intended" way.

    We're being reduced to being consumers. You get what you should have. Not what you want.
  • Say what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:11AM (#15443920) Homepage
    A multipurpose tool is being restricted for its potential use in illegal activities? Now where have I heard that before...?
    Oh right, every slashdot article ever.

    Bittorrent is not evil.
    Chemistry sets are not evil.
    Guns are not evil.
    Network analyzers are not evil.
  • by OldChemist ( 978484 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @09:14AM (#15443945)
    Yes, I made gunpowder. Went to the local drug store as a nine year old and got the stuff. Not sure if the pharmacist even knew what I was up to... Also threw calcium carbide in a paint can of water and set off. Boom! Played with benzene, mercury, and God knows what else. Gilbert chemistry set had a lot of interesting stuff in it. BUT - this was probably not a good thing, and I certainly wouldn't want kids doing this nowadays, given what I know about safety and missing body parts. HOWEVER - all is not lost. It is very possible to do things with "kitchen chemistry" type experiments. Inks (water soluble) can be chromatographed on paper towels. Lipstick (sic) can be chromatographed (components separated) on napkins... (There is an interesting story in Primo Levi's The Periodic Table about this.) So the bottom line is that clever highschool teacher science wannabes have to learn how to make the excitement of science clear to students by using a little ingenuity and thought about safer way to do this than in the good/bad old days.
  • Re-run (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <tomstdenis@gmCOMMAail.com minus punct> 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 :-)
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Crazy old Lazar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @02:34PM (#15447317) Homepage
    Odd that the Wired article (and no /. comments so far), have commented on Bob Lazar's [wikipedia.org] colourful history.

    He's the dude that claimed to have reverse engineered UFO's at Area 51, and claimed to have advanced degrees from MIT and CIT (which no one can substantiate). He's on all the UFO conspiracy shows.

    A colourful character for sure, and a go-getter, but anything coming form him seems that it might be taken with a grain of salt (errr, sodium chloride).
  • 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.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva