In discussing the chemistry of “legal highs” earlier this week, I was reminded of a dust-up last month in the UK following the launch of a government anti-drug campaign to warn young people that “legal” intoxicants are not necessarily “safe.”
At issue was the Home Office’s “Crazy Chemist” campaign:
Featuring an eye catching and menacing scientist, the campaign conveys the unscrupulous nature of people who create and sell substances with little concern for the health of those who consume them.
(The UK Home Office is “the lead government department for immigration and passports, drugs policy, crime, counter-terrorism and police.”)
Although Minister of Crime Prevention James Brookshire noted that the campaign resonated with young people, the Royal Society of Chemistry objected strongly:
Jim Iley, director of science and education at the RSC, said: “This is a lazy stereotype of the chemist as unhinged scientist and it is totally irresponsible that the government has decided to use such an image for what is clearly an important campaign which we would whole heartedly endorse. Chemists in the UK and elsewhere invest significant amounts of time to use chemistry to solve health-related issue and, consequently, improving people’s lives.
Indeed, the graphic is not an attractive portrayal of the chemist, looking more like someone who was not paying attention to the content of The Safety Zone blog here at CENtral Science. The Crazy Chemist poster can be downloaded as a 1MB PDF and a link to the postcard is here.
The campaign also links to a rather good drug information site called FRANK with a video showing forensic scientist Dr Phil Yates using an Agilent 5893 GC/MS to analyze these legal chemical analogues of Class A drugs, the UK equivalent of US DEA Schedule I.
My guess is that our readers would be far more interested in the accurate laboratory portrayal of the forensic chemist. But as far as educating young people about the dangers of God-knows-what that can be bought on the street or the internet, the Crazy Chemist might be a more effective campaign. The rest of FRANK does a good job without demonizing chemists but rather presenting information with Flash modules and catchy graphics.
What do non-British chemists think? Are you okay with this representation of the clandestine chemist in the name of adolescent education? Or is any stereotypical promotion of the mad scientist harmful to the profession?
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