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March 10th, 2005
If it is true that we fear what we do not understand, then the standardized test scores of American high school students, in the area of science, go a long way toward explaining chemophobia.
Michael Creighton's sci-fi thriller "Prey" put a pretty face on a revolutionary horror for those who are very imaginative, but not terribly incredulous, when it comes to the dangers of technological progress. The new horror is self-replicating, out-of-control "gray goo", and the new technology is nanotechnology.
From my perspective, both the utopian and the gooey scenarios are pure fantasy. But if the longevity of chemophobia (despite the doubling of life expectancy derived from modern chemistry) has taught chemists anything, it is that such platitudes are feeble weapons against fear. Education works best.
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