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Gearing up for #scio13 Session 8A: Chemophobia & chemistry in the modern world

ScienceOnline2013 is but three short weeks away. Dr. Rubidium and I will be there to make sure that a major chemistry talking point gets a good airing. I’m talking, of course, about chemophobia – the idea that everything “synthetic” or “chemical” is somehow other, somehow less desirable and less safe than what’s “natural” or “organic”. (And the gulf between how chemists and the rest of the world define the word organic? Well, that is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)

Our session is on Sat, Feb 2, 10:30-11:30 am, Room 3
CHECK OUT THE SESSION WIKI: We’ve posted a slew of links there to spark discussion. What have we missed? Tell us in the comments here or on the wiki itself. You don’t have to be registered for the conference to comment there.

You’ll see from those links that we’ve shared many a facepalm moment about “chemical-free” this-or-that. I can’t help but feel that our conversations have a little bit of that dreaded echo-chamber quality. We folks having the conversations are affirming one another. But are we changing any minds? Are we reaching any influencers? I’m not sure.

I’ll quote Forbes contributor Trevor Butterworth, who said what I’m getting at quite eloquently last August in regard to a particular mainstream media chemophobia flap.

Last May, Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning science writer and a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin, published a column pleading with the New York Times’ opinion columnist Nick Kristof to stop writing about chemical risk.

Blum’s column got a lot of positive coverage, with many commenters further “fisking” Kristof’s apocalyptic claims and the politics behind them. It made, alas, not a blind bit of difference. At the bookend of summer, Kristof is at it again.

No one ever said that changing minds is easy. In fact, I think it’s one of the hardest things to do. I hope that some of what will emerge from our discussion are some guidelines, some rules of engagement if you will. Chemophobia isn’t just happening in NYTimes op-eds. It happens during work hours and off-hours. Maybe by starting small, we can take back the message.

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