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Policy

On Chemical Illiteracy

October 27, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 43

I have followed chemical illiteracy in the media—newspapers in particular—for several decades. Even newspapers with corrections sections refuse to correct chemical errors that should be obvious even to the less knowledgeable.

For example, recently in a local newspaper, but one with national circulation, sodium hypochlorite (formula given in the news article) was referred to as muriatic acid, certainly an error worth correcting. The same newspaper is diligent in correcting the misspelling of an individual’s name or the year of any occurrence.

What does this indicate to the scientific reader? Namely, disregard for accuracy. What does this mean to one not versed in the chemical subject? Obviously, further ignorance of chemistry and even false understanding.

What journalism needs are more reporters and commentators with at least a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry. Will this occur in my lifetime? I hardly think so, since I am 90 years old.

Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, Md.

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