A Discussion of #chemophobia on Twitter: in Blogversation with @chemtacular

Over the last few months, there has been an ongoing conversation between some chemists on twitter discussing the use of the word, and hashtag, (#)chemophobia, kicked off (I think) by this post from @mustlovescience. One of the main drivers behind this dialogue is @chemtacular, who led a charge to replace the use of #chemophobia, which is described in this post from her blog Tales from the Critical State. Feeling a little stifled by twitter’s 140 character limit, @chemtacular and I (@reneewebs) have decided to go long-form and discuss this over a few posts on our respective blogs, a ‘blogversation’ if you will (I love terrible portmanteaux, go ahead and judge me I don’t care!).

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To break down and expand upon some points that @chemtacular raised in her post:

My issue is that this term [chemophobia] is used by chemists to describe a negative portrayal of chemistry.

This I agree with, and I can provide a couple of examples here where chemistry has been misused or misunderstood, but there is not necessarily a fear element involved.

bogus

Left image source: Reddit Chemistry .Right image source: also Reddit Chemistry I think but I couldn’t find the original thread, if anyone has the link please let me know so I can add it

Cases like these is where the hashtag #boguschem is perfect.

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I also have a hard time with this word [chemophobia] because it is used in such a way that it strengthens the rift between the public and chemistry when there doesn’t have to be one

This I believe it the strongest argument against using the word chemophobia, especially on twitter. Consider this Totally 100% Real* twitter interaction I captured earlier:

 chemophobia1

*not actually any % real

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When the chemtwitosphere jump on some dodgy chemistry in the media (which we often do), what do we hope to achieve by tweeting about it, whether we include the hashtag #chemophobia in the discussion or not? I suggest there would usually be two reasons;

  1. We want to point out that the individual or organisation in question has made a scientific error, ideally in a polite and civil way that would educate them and encourage them to think about making a change their marketing or labelling. Climb On Products is an example of one company who did make such a change, although I’m not sure of the circumstances in which this came about.
  2. We want to have a joke or commiserate amongst our community, to laugh and cry together about crimes against ‘our’ chemistry. We’re a passionate bunch of chemists, and to bond (pun intended) over these shared frustrations is something that helps to connect us.

What do you think @chemtacular, are there other situations you can think of where we might need to frame things differently again?

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I spent an afternoon tweeting with chemists … and the best we could do to come up with a term that wasn’t dismissive, punching down, or dissing chemistry was #BogusChem

@chemtacular, I would love if you could expand upon this – why is the choice of wording in the phrase so important? On twitter you’ve talked about being wary of using certain words like ‘abuse’ and ‘exploitation’, or derivations of these. And finally, is it possible that maybe there just isn’t an English word or short phrase that exists to perfectly convey what we’re trying to say?

I look forward to your response.


5 Comments on “A Discussion of #chemophobia on Twitter: in Blogversation with @chemtacular”

  1. […] my first chemistry blog post! This post is a response to the “blogversation” between @reneewebs and @chemtacular concerning the ongoing use of the word […]

  2. […] a positive and productive manner. I responded to Renee Webster’s kick off post and we’ve gotten a lot of excellent feedback both on Twitter and from bloggers. I’d […]

  3. Thanks much for the love y’all, we are always listening and growing!

  4. […] on twitter, as well as the ongoing chemophobia discussion (about which you can read more here, and here). To kick off the series, this graphic takes a look at salicylic acid, and its uses in […]


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