British Chemists Hacked Off By Government’s “Lazy Stereotype”

The Royal Society of Chemistry is not at all amused.

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.
More information can be found at this BBC article and this RSC press release. 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?

Author: David Kroll

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  1. It seems to me that, as long as chemists remain scrupulous and wholesome individuals themselves, there’s no need to worry about this sort of image. Anyone who takes this as is and forever on takes chemists to be mad scientists would likely have thought so anyway, anti-drug poster or not.
    That being said, perhaps I’m just not quite aware of what the layman will think when he sees “The Crazy Chemist.” In the end, though, I doubt it will hurt a chemists image in any significant way.

  2. I can’t see the image, reading on my phone. Personally, I’d prefer an image of a dorky, @@flaky malnourished guy home-brewing meth in his garage/basement/wherever they do such nefarious things in the UK.

  3. k, when you get to a computer, you must take a look at the Crazy Chemist campaign because someone with your sense of humor will appreciate it. Your point is well-taken as to the kind of person that would likely be more accurately represented in the campaign.

  4. I just looked at the Crazy Chemist campaign, and find it one of the poorest public service campaigns that I have seen in ages.

    Like all stereotypes, it is a Bad Thing. Although I know scientists who possess odd senses of humor, they are not “crazy” or mentally ill. Again, another bad stereotype. The UK Ministry of Offensive Stereotypes has done an excellent job, although one that should not have been undertaken.

    As above, I would far rather see a real-life example depicted, such as a meth addict, hell-bent on destroying himself, with all of the hygiene, dental, and nutrition problems that are well-documented in medical literature, shown in an illicit meth lab, than this misbegotten, offensive travesty the UK government is trying to promulgate.

    I am not a scientist, but I am the daughter of a chemist.

  5. As stereotypical as this “Crazy Chemist” image may be since MOST chamists are not like that one must not forget that SOMEONE (read SOME CHEMISTS) are synthesizing and producing these drugs in large scale. And while they are doing it for money, not because they’re crazy, it’s easy to see the crazyness of the whole situation. Money overriding everything IS crazy. But will go on. In chemistry and elsewhere.


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