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Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia

Steve Silberman at Wired: Don't Try This at Home:

Garage chemistry used to be a rite of passage for geeky kids. But in their search for terrorist cells and meth labs, authorities are making a federal case out of DIY science.

What's the problem with stifling home-grown chemists?

The lure of do-it-yourself chemistry has always been the most potent recruiting tool science has to offer. Many kids attracted by the promise of filling the garage with clouds of ammonium sulfide - the proverbial stink bomb - went on to brilliant careers in mathematics, biology, programming, and medicine.

The new Meth laws are partly to blame:

...more than 30 states have passed laws to restrict sales of chemicals and lab equipment associated with meth production, which has resulted in a decline in domestic meth labs, but makes things daunting for an amateur chemist shopping for supplies.

.... "To criminalize the necessary materials of discovery is one of the worst things you can do in a free society," says Shawn Carlson, a 1999 MacArthur fellow and founder of the Society for Amateur Scientists. "The Mr. Coffee machine that every Texas legislator has near his desk has three violations of the law built into it: a filter funnel, a Pyrex beaker, and a heating element. The laws against meth should be the deterrent to making it - not criminalizing activities that train young people to appreciate science."

Once again, our Government blocks the trees in its misguided belief it will preserve the forest.

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  • Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#1)
    by aw on Tue May 30, 2006 at 06:46:59 AM EST
    The article is a real eye-opener. I remember my brother's "lab" in the basement with the chemistry kit you can no longer buy. As confirmation that being able to "play" with chemicals encourages an interest in science as a career, he did grow up to be a scientist, a PHd.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#2)
    by rdandrea on Tue May 30, 2006 at 06:53:25 AM EST
    Hate to admit it, but I was one of those weird kids who did chemistry in the basement. I still remember my parents coming home to a house full of smoke after an experiment, packing a rocket engine with my own mixture, went bad. The house was OK, thank God, and I only burned three fingers, none of them seriously. Just a mile bike ride away from my house was Scientific Glass Apparatus, a big scientific supply house who sold chemicals, lab equipment, and glassware. I knew their catalog by heart. They not only had a retail store, but also a "closeout" section with discontinued or damaged stuff--stuff a kid could almost afford. Needless to say I was a frequent customer. Times were different then. In 1958, when I was 8 years old, the Eisenhower administration pushed through the National Defense Education Act in response to Sputnik. The NDEA recognized that teaching science, developing a steady in-house supply of scientists and engineers, was essential to winning the Cold War. Now we just outsource the work to India. Making stink bombs in the basement was not only legal, it was encouraged. There was actually a multi-school science club with real adult mentors in my home town. I got interested in science by making stink bombs in the basement. I went on to do science for a living. It's sad to think that kids can't do that anymore.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue May 30, 2006 at 07:33:28 AM EST
    This is where discretion ("profiling") should take over rather than laws. Restrict the sales based on common sense to white trash not to geeky science kids. Is it really that hard to tell the difference?

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue May 30, 2006 at 08:12:29 AM EST
    Why not sell them in schools to kids taking science courses?

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#5)
    by aw on Tue May 30, 2006 at 08:38:19 AM EST
    Gus, did you read the linked article?

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#6)
    by cpinva on Tue May 30, 2006 at 10:22:18 AM EST
    Why not sell them in schools to kids taking science courses?
    gus, it isn't only kids taking science courses that might possibly have an interest in it. in fact, the old chemistry set is what prompted a lot of kids to take their first lab science course. it's amazing how much smoke can be produced, by just a little powdered aluminum! lol funny thing about that bomb used to destroy the federal bldg. in oklahoma city; no chemicals purchased from a supply house were used, just fertilizer and diesel fuel, both readily available, just about anywhere. geez, next thing you know, they'll be removing all books, from libraries, that make any reference to explosives, or chemicals or science in general. wouldn't want anyone getting any bad ideas there, now would we?
    we have met the enemy, and he is us.
    pogo

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#7)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue May 30, 2006 at 11:34:36 AM EST
    Actually, there are lots of things we used to be able to do that we can't do now. I am a professor of biochemistry at a fairly large research university (as was my father before me). We live in an incredibly regulated environment that my late father would not recognize -- regs regarding use of animals, biosafety, chemical disposal, biohazardous waste disposal, student training. On top of that, we have a host of homeland security issues regarding our obtaining a host of materials (most of which are rather less rational than the previous ones). Still, on balance of these regs are in place for very good reason, even if they take an amazing amount of my time. As I said, most of them are relatively recent (compared to the 1950s). Kids in the 1960s used to play with mercury like it was a toy. And, of course, asbestos was all over the place. Home chemistry sets are maybe not a great idea, even if those of us who became scientists once played with them.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#8)
    by Johnny on Tue May 30, 2006 at 01:04:54 PM EST
    Restrict the sales based on common sense to white trash not to geeky science kids. Is it really that hard to tell the difference?
    Are you serious? Get a clue.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#9)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue May 30, 2006 at 01:29:36 PM EST
    Johnny - My point is that there should be no law, but store owners SHOULD be allowed to refguse service to anyone for any reason,including looking like a crankhead while purchasing equipment that could be used to make meth. What is your problem with this?

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#10)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue May 30, 2006 at 02:19:17 PM EST
    I had tons o' fun making stink bombs and real bombs and chunking them down woodchuck holes when I was young. I think it has been hard to get your hands on chemistry sets since long before 9-11. Like since the start of large liability lawsuits.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#11)
    by jondee on Tue May 30, 2006 at 04:14:49 PM EST
    Wile - Remember what happened to Carl Spackler. On behalf of the Revoloutionary Woodchuck Liberation Front, let this be a warning.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue May 30, 2006 at 06:47:01 PM EST
    Wile - Your timing comment is right. I tried to buy one in the 70's.. I could get one, but it had almost nothing of interest... et al - Being a farm boy we believed in efficient operations. One cap, one stick and boom! The ole dip net was full of fish. I did know a kid who managed to put an eye out while making hydrogen. If that happened today he and his parents could have retired. That would probably you get you hard time today.... even in Red State Heaven.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#13)
    by Johnny on Tue May 30, 2006 at 09:24:50 PM EST
    What is your problem with this?
    Well, if you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that only people who appear to be crankheads (or white trash, LMAO whatta statement coming from someone who is affiliated with the party attracting such a high % of those white trash) are purchasing items designed for manufacturing crank, then I may go along with your proposal... Nah, there are already provisions in place to help prevent the purchase of enough goods to produce large amounts of meth. Next example.

    Re: Homeland Security Implements Chemophobia (none / 0) (#14)
    by scarshapedstar on Wed May 31, 2006 at 01:08:35 PM EST
    Which hurts America more, losing an office building or losing a generation of scientists?