Originally posted on Feb. 9, 2014 and now updated to include:
I’ve decided to do something a bit different with this post and enter in a blogversation with @reneeweebs and @chemtacular based on Renee’s recent blog post “A Discussion of #chemophobia on Twitter: in Blogversation with @chemtacular“.
Ever hear the term “chemophobia“? It’s been used a lot by those in chemistry outreach to describe the irrational fear of chemicals due to popular misconceptions. I actually participated in a podcast with The Collapsed Wavefunction on the topic of “chemophobia” last spring. There has been a lot of debate over this term over the past few months. I believe @theCollapsedPsi will be participating in a podcast debate over this very term sometime soon.
I actually avoid using the term “chemophobia” (with the exception of the podcast I participated in!), and I prefer to say “chemical misconceptions”. If I use it, it’s simply because others are in the same scenario, and I like to keep references consistent. I dislike the term for a number of reasons, some of which Renee brings up in her post. Overall, I feel that the term does send the wrong message. It’s not about fear but about the need to understand. People need to understand what chemicals to fear and what chemicals are perfectly harmless. Let’s face it, there are definitely some chemicals out there to be afraid of! The Collapsed Wavefunction brings up some great points from this perspective in a post called “Chemophobia-phobia: When chemists defend too much.”
I also want to point out that this word has a very different meaning to non-chemists and chemistry outreach folks. I have had a number of non-chemists tell me that they thought “chemophobia” had something to do with chemotherapy. I am curious what other non-chemists think of when they are exposed to this word?
I also wonder if we are spending too much time debating over this word. It’s a word. A lot of intelligent people are dedicating a lot of time to discussing this. Time that we could be spending educating others and spreading the word that not all chemicals are awful! Let’s all just share our resources and help others learn what chemicals they should and shouldn’t fear and stop worrying about terminology. If you don’t like it, then don’t use it!
Perhaps, I will stick to that rule now that I have also spend some time on this discussion. I myself typically use “chemical misconceptions”. What word(s) would you use instead? What hashtag? I suggested #ChemMisUnderstood and #ChemMisConcept
@Chemtacular responded with:
@Chemtacular, I think #ChemMisConcept covers both those who fear and are putting out inaccurate info. because those who fear are afraid because of those misconceptions!
Renée Webster writes a summary of the blogversation.
RSC’s “What are you afraid of?” by Katharine Sanderson makes us chemists think about how we approach chemical misconceptions, and the idea of “chemical-free”.