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Home science under attack
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Tue, 12 Aug 2008 19:25:29 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Tim O'Reilly" <tim () oreilly com>
Date: August 12, 2008 6:58:29 PM EDT
To: Dave Farber <dave () farber net>
Cc: Robert Thompson <thompson () ttgnet com>, phillip torrone <pt () oreilly com >
Subject: Home science under attack

I grew up with a chemistry set. You could get them in every corner hobby store. But as liability fears grew, the experimental ethic that built the US as a science and technology powerhouse faded, and such "dangerous" toys became much harder to find.

So when my Make magazine team decided to publish Robert Bruce Thompson's <a href=http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596514921/ index.html>Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments</a>, I applauded. The book has been a great success.

But then this news came in from the author of that book:  

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that Victor Deeb, a retired chemist who lives in Marlboro, has finally been allowed to return to his Fremont Street home, after Massachusetts authorities spent three days ransacking his basement lab and making off with its contents.

Deeb is not accused of making methamphetamine or other illegal drugs. He's not accused of aiding terrorists, synthesizing explosives, nor even of making illegal fireworks. Deeb fell afoul of the Massachusetts authorities for ... doing experiments.

Authorities concede that the chemicals found in Deeb's basement lab were no more hazardous than typical household cleaning products. Despite that, authorities confiscated “all potentially hazardous chemicals” (which is to say the chemicals in Deeb's lab) from his home, and called in a hazardous waste cleanup company to test the chemicals and clean up the lab.

Pamela Wilderman, the code enforcement officer for Marlboro, stated, “I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation.”

Allow me to translate Ms. Wilderman's words into plain English: "Mr. Deeb hasn't actually violated any law or regulation that I can find, but I don't like what he's doing because I'm ignorant and irrationally afraid of chemicals, so I'll abuse my power to steal his property and shut him down."

In effect, the Massachusetts authorities have invaded Deeb's lab, apparently without a warrant, and stolen his property.

Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media
1005 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-827-7150   tim () oreilly com
http://www.oreilly.com, http://radar.oreilly.com

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