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Great Story, Bad Rap

December 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 49

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I have long been puzzled by the poor image of chemistry since those halcyon days of the 1950s and ’60s. Somehow chemists have taken a bad rap for a variety of societal maladies, notably the environment.

But we are victims of our own success. Take fabric: Towels don’t fray. Shirts last longer. And few remember ever darning a sock. Why? Those darn chemists! We have developed fibers, improved surface treatments, made colors fast, improved comfort, and made it all wrinklefree. Great news for consumers, but the clothing and towel stores have lost business!

Repeat this story for pretty much any aspect of life: food, health, transportation, communications, personal care ... the answer remains the same. Those darn chemists have improved the products, made “stuff” cheaper for consumers, and been central to improvements in life and society for over a century.

Chemistry has a great story. We should tell it better.

Mitchell D. Erickson
New Providence, N.J.


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