Hank Fox has brought a significant problem to my attention, one that I’ve addressed before: one of the consequences of growing American cowardice and these trumped-up Wars on Terror and Drugs (let’s call them what they are: a War on Civil Liberties) is that science and science education are collateral damage. Memepunks has an excellent post on this subject:
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.
In the name of child safety, in order to inhibit drug peddlers, because we don’t want to make things easy for terrorists, we have put up bureaucratic barriers to the purchase of laboratory glassware — while encouraging unimpaired, unchecked access to guns.
Is this a screwed-up country, or what?
The memepunks site has some suggestions for getting around the restrictions.
But there are some lights shinning in the darkness of this situation. Companies like United Nuclear, which continue to sell chemicals and lab equipment despite legal problems, and websites that support chemistry hobbyists. Like Readily Available Chemicals, which maintains a list of places where one can make an end run around the restrictions and purchase chemicals or lab ware. Or The Nitrogen Order, who provides a how to on building your own chemistry set, and provides lessons and experiments. And Science Madness who’s forums give hobbyists a place to meet, compare notes, and exchange secrets of the trade anonymously. One of my favorites is the Society for Amateur Scientists, which just began a LABRats program, to match up youngsters that are interested in science with mentors that are practicing scientists.
That’s right, people, this is what it is coming down to: you need to break the law to do science. We’re criminalizing nerds.
At least making science dangerous and illicit and illegal ought to make us romantic outlaws look cool.