Aliquots of the #chemophobia blogversation

10 days is a long time in internetland, this fickle place where memes flap in and out of our lives like disoriented cartoon birds attempting to navigate between vertical pipes. In the time since I posted the first part of the chemophobia blogversation, there have been many fantastic contributions to the discussion.

Chemtacular put forth three contributions, the first of which began with calling me a superstar so naturally, everything she said in the rest of the post was flawless. NEXT.

In the second post, Chemtacular used a recent twitter interaction as an example to make her case. She argues that the label chemophobia is a gateway to ad hominem attacks and bullying of those who fear or misuse chemistry.

Chemtacular’s third offering was posted at Chemistry Blog and asked ‘where to from here?’. If the chemists of the internet can’t agree on how to use the term chemophobia (herding cats anyone?), does it really matter? (yes, it does) We all want the same thing, to see chemistry appreciated amongst the wider community, and how can we as professional chemists help to make that happen?

Luke expressed his concern that chemists are losing ownership of the word ‘chemical’ and suggests taking concerns about false labelling of products as ‘chemical-free’ to the relevant authorities. He asserts that we as chemists are ‘brand ambassadors’ for chemistry, and this is an attitude that we can adopt in our everyday lives amongst our families, friends and colleagues.

Chad* made references to things like dolphins and jazz music in the beehive state, which appear to somehow relate to some strange North American cultural phenomena that I in the land down under found utterly puzzling. However, he also said some good things that I did understand. Namely, that chemophobia is not an insurmountable problem. Together with organisations like the ACS, we can make a concerted effort to change the way the public responds to chemistry. Also, keep an ear out for an upcoming episode of Chad’s Chemjobber’s podcast, in which he, Chemjobber, Chemtacular and ScienceNotScary will explore these issues further.

Dorea tells us that she is ahead of the curve, and ditched using chemophobia in favour of ‘chemical misconceptions’. Dorea’s emphasis is on increasing understanding of chemistry in everyday life, with a splendid example of this in her follow up post.

Edit 1: Feb 13 2014 8:30 PM AEDST

Thanks to commenter Chad below, I’m pleased to add two more posts to the roundup.

Jen at Experimentalitea pointed out that chemophobia almost certainly isn’t technically the right word to use, as people’s fear is not an involuntary, irrational response. Rather, it is the product of years of conditioning to the false dichotomy of natural=good/synthetic=bad which is perpetuated through the media.

Tyler at Science Borealis took the example of polyaromatic hydrocarbons to demonstrate the complexities and nuance of the chemicals we experience in our daily lives. PAHs are ubiquitous in the modern world, found in cigarettes, outer space, burned food, and the atmosphere. Some of them are known carcinogens, yet we generally go about our lives breathing and eating PAHs without giving it a second thought – what does this mean for our understanding of chemicals and the risks associated with them?

Edit 2: Feb 13 2014 10:40 PM AEDST

Shawn at Chemistry Reflux suggests that it might be time for chemists to eat a little humble pie, and accept that the ‘defend and debunk’ model of combatting chemical wrongs is not going to get us very far. The last paragraph of Shawn’s post in particular is really ace and you should go and read it right now.

End Edits

It seems the chemists of the internet have well and truly spoken on this issue, but it has also become clear that we are only speaking amongst ourselves. The question of how we should best approach the problems of chemistry’s bad reputation in the public sphere is what remains.

Go forth, fellow champions of the chemical sciences and react.



*Chad recently let me in on the fact that Chad is short for Chadmium. Actually, maybe we are long lost siblings because I use Renée as the short version of my full name, Rhenéenium.

** If I have missed any other contributions, please let me know.

12 Comments on “Aliquots of the #chemophobia blogversation”

  1. Chadmium here,

    I should note that Chemjobber has the audio for the mentioned podcast. He’ll be the one releasing it.

  2. Not exactly a discussion of the word chemophobia, but I did discuss (with heavy sarcasm) examples of chemicals that are used in both food and making plastic.
    The US recently was in a tizzy because someone (The Food Babe) was able to get a large chain of sandwich stores to stop making their bread from flour containing azodicarbonamide. Her argument was largely that the same chemical is used to make yoga mats and shoe rubber and therefore it shouldn’t be in food. Hence my sarcastic reply

  3. […] second post in response to a conversation started by @chemtacular and @reneewebs (see an excellent summary by Reneé Webster of the conversation so […]

  4. […] second post in response to a conversation started by @chemtacular and @reneewebs (see an excellent summary by Reneé Webster of the conversation so […]

  5. […] second post in response to a conversation started by @chemtacular and @reneewebs (see an excellent summary by Reneé Webster of the conversation so […]

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