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Re: Home science under attack
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 04:08:27 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: "David P. Reed" <dpreed () reed com>
Date: August 12, 2008 9:23:31 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Cc: ip <ip () v2 listbox com>, "Tim O'Reilly" <tim () oreilly com>
Subject: Re: [IP] Home science under attack

I, too, grew up in a time when a young person was encouraged to carry out home chemistry experiments. My lab, when I was 11 years old, included a very well rounded set of salts, acids, bases, organic reagents, glassware, etc. (my father was an engineer, and was quite excited with my interest.) Fisher Scientific was indeed very helpful - I recall doing some very exciting inorganic and organic chemistry, supported by analytic chemistry textbooks I purchased from academic publishers and also a rather neat book I have lost: "The Boy's Own Book of Chemistry".

The ability to use reagents and solvents such as concentrated sulfuric acid, ether, sodium nitrate, potassium perchorate, trichloroethylene, ... in safe situations with good ventilation (a hood) were major contributors to a perspective on science that was "hands on" rather than memorizing equations in a textbook or simulating in a web browser.

Yes, there were dangers, and of course I knew then and know now how to make exothermic and poisonous results.

This is why such activities are best done with mentors, on display, and celebrated. Openness, rather than forcing people interested in science to hide away in the darkness, seems far more constructive. Otherwise only the illicit drug makers will have an interest in chemistry.

Outlawing all chemicals in one's own home, however, seems wrong. Far better to provide education, safe disposal sites, etc.

Let's focus on constructive engagement with scientifically minded people. Fear of chemicals, fear of biological experiments, etc. are not productive for society.

David Farber wrote:

Begin forwarded message:

*From: *"Tim O'Reilly" <tim () oreilly com <mailto:tim () oreilly com>>
*Date: *August 12, 2008 6:58:29 PM EDT
*To: *Dave Farber <dave () farber net <mailto:dave () farber net>>
*Cc: *Robert Thompson <thompson () ttgnet com <mailto:thompson () ttgnet com >>, phillip torrone <pt () oreilly com <mailto: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_ <http://www.telegram.com/article/20080809/NEWS/808090323/1008/ > 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 <mailto:tim () oreilly com>
http://www.oreilly.com, http://radar.oreilly.com

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