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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

America's War On Science

There is an unseen war going on in America. It's part of the war on drugs, part of the war on terror, and part of consumer safety. As an emergent side effect of these, and some additional foolishness, America is waging war on science. While the government targets terrorists, drug makers and illegal fireworks, it's the arm chair chemists and curious youngsters that get caught in the crossfire. The government has enabled legislation that makes DIY chemistry impossible without violating laws. And in so doing, we are sowing salt into the soil of our own future. Years ago, chemistry sets geared toward children and model rockets were simply part of growing up as a youngster in middle America. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing over the metal cabinet of my Chemcraft chemistry set, wearing over sized adult safety goggles and scrawling notes on my latest bubbling concoction, or launching an Estes rocket in the park.

But many of the youth of today will never get that chance. The Consumer Product Saftey Division has made it a point to outlaw chemicals that can be used to make illegal fireworks. Chemicals like sulfur and potassium perchlorate, that would have been standard issue in any lab experiment of yesteryear are now contraband. The CPSD, best known for its issuing of recalls for consumer goods, claims that this ban is in effect to reduce injuries from home made fireworks. The fact of the matter is that 98% of all firework related injuries are caused by off the shelf fireworks. All of this CPSD nonsense is to cut down on the other 2%.

The modern CPSD does more than just alert consumers to dangerous toasters. They have the power to mobilize law enforcement, and sponsor raids on citizens and businesses. One such raid was directed at the amazing online store United Nuclear. United Nuclear sells super powerful magnets, aerogel, lasers, chemicals, lab ware, and all sorts of other geeky goodness. The founders of United Nuclear were held at gun point, handcuffed, and had all of their computers and records confiscated. Why? Because some of the chemicals they sell could be used to make fireworks. United Nuclear is now involved in a long legal battle to avoid fines and prison sentences thanks to the CPSD.

And the fun doesn't stop there. In an attempt to curb the production of crystal meth, more than 30 states have now outlawed or require registration for common lab equipment. In Texas, you need to register the purchase of Erlenmeyer flasks or three-necked beakers. The same state where I do not have to register a handgun, forces me to register a glass beaker. In Portland, Oregon, even pH strips are suspect. Modern off the shelf "chemistry" sets are sold without any of the questionable chemicals or equipment. For example, when a current company tried re releasing a kit based on the one marketed by Mr. Wizard himself back in the 1950s, they found that they could only include five of the original chemicals in the set. The rest of the items were replaced with inane things like super balls and balloons. Even a non neutered modern chemistry set like the C3000 from Thames and Kosmos is forced to ship without many key chemicals, suggesting to their customers that they acquire the missing ingredients elsewhere.

Forget about model rocketry. Since the beginnings of the war on terror, the government has ridiculously claimed that model rockets could be used to shoot down commercial aircraft. Now all rocket engines above a certain size and thrust limit require fingerprinting, background checks and waving of your search and seizure rights! Said engines often require a Low Explosive Usage Permit to launch or take them across state lines. And all of these paranoid laws and regulations on chemistry, rocketry, and lab ware are not being done in ignorance. The powers that be are aware of the effect legislation is having on budding scientists and hobby enthusiasts. Pentagon and Justice Department consultant, professor James Tour said, “The fact that there are amateurs and retired professors out there who need access to these chemicals is a valid problem, but there aren’t many of those guys weighed against the possible dangers.” So because we still fear the terrorist boogieman, our kids are not allowed the same access to science that we had growing up. And hobbyists are forced to collect their chemicals and do their work in secret.

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Posted by Ajay :: 7:10 PM :: 0 comments

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