Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How to recognize (and talk to) a chemophobe.

How to recognize (and talk to) a chemophobe.: Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion of chemophobia in the popular press and on blogs. But it seems to me that there have been few summaries of the general features of chemophobia and how to exorcise them. So I thought I would put together a short list, largely personal, of the "elements of chemophobia" and possible measures to address them. Most of what I say would be all too familiar to chemists, but I hope some of it might be of use to intelligent laymen for identifying, understanding and dispelling chemophobia. To make the discussion a little more interesting, I have divided each point into "symptom" and "remedy". I end with a few thoughts on how we can bridge the gap between fear and love of "chemicals". 1. Symptom - Chemophobes fear "chemicals": This goes without saying. Chemophobes fear a technically nebulous entity called "chemicals" that's all too real to them. The problem is that in the jargon of chemistry, "chemicals" essentially means everything in the material world, from fuels and plastics to human bodies and baby oil. Over the years chemophobes have expertly molded the word "chemical" into what's called a "trigger word", a stimulus that triggers an emotional rather than a rational response. At best the term "chemicals" is so broad as to be useless, and it also does a disservice to the entire material world. To be fair though, I think most chemophobes when they say "chemicals" are referring to what they are thinking of as "bad chemicals". One would think that they have a much more benign attitude toward "good chemicals". But even this poses a problem, as the following point makes clear. [More]