Mark Lorch on chemophobia

28 November 2013

"So why is chemistry the bad boy of the sciences? Why is there this chemophobia? Biology doesn't get a bad rap - quite the opposite. Biology has amazing animals, plants, the human genome project and David Attenborough."

- Mark Lorch, writing in the BBC News online Magazine

Lorch, a senior lecturer of chemistry at Hull University, wonders why chemistry, and chemicals, have such a bad reputation. Sure, chemicals can be toxic, but lots of biological and physical things are harmful too; and meanwhile, chemicals are the building blocks of everything we have. Lorch comes up with an intriguing explanation: it's the widespread science communication tactic of demonstrating chemistry with explosions, instead of its more life-affirming qualities, that may be to blame.

Pouring fuel onto the flames of enthusiasm is easy, especially with chemistry. The theatre is easy, too - the bangs, the flames, the explosions, the pops, the whizzes, the smoke and the rockets are fabulously entertaining. I love it, and I love the whoops and cries and applause from the audience...But at the end of the day, what did the audience remember? Just those bangs - and not a jot of chemistry. Explosive, flaming chemistry demos do nothing to show what chemistry can build and everything to highlight what it can destroy. And in the process, they blow out any flickering interest in chemistry and replace it with fear.

You can read the entire piece here.