Would you rather trust a cow or a chemist?

Tomorrow the Official International Launch ceremony of the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) takes place in Paris.

The first of four main aims for the IYC is to “Increase the appreciation of Chemistry in meeting world needs”.

And what an excellent idea.  My PhD is in chemistry and I know from personal experience that chemists are seriously unappreciated. Most people consider Chemistry to be smelly, slightly dangerous, difficult, boring and responsible for filling the world with evil toxins. A serious image change is required, and I hope IYC will help achieve this.

Browsing through the activities, I came across the following – an abstract for a public lecture given this month by Frances Sutherland in Canada as part of IYC. I think this sums up the problem quite nicely.

A story in Time magazine about the relative merits of conventional and organic produce featured a curious quote from a professor of nutrition education at Columbia University.  When asked if she preferred butter or margarine, she replied “I would rather trust a cow than a chemist.”  Unfortunately such negative comments about chemistry are not unusual these days as the lay press often focuses on “toxic chemicals” in our air, water, food and even in our blood.  It is incumbent on chemists, especially during the International Year of Chemistry, to put chemical risks into perspective for the public and to try and allay unreasonable fears. 


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