Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Public image of chemistry: Breaking chemistry's bad rap

Date:
September 26, 2011
Source:
American University
Summary:
A new show "Breaking Bad" makes chemistry entertaining but is not improving chemistry's tarnished public image, according to a new article.

Breaking Bad, cable channel AMC's popular series chronicling the dark transformation of Walter White from suburban chemistry high school teacher to crystal meth master chef and criminal mastermind, makes chemistry entertaining for the average person through shocking story developments, including White using his chemistry expertise (poison, noxious gas, and acid) to eliminate rival meth slingers.

But the show is not improving chemistry's tarnished public image says Matthew Hartings, assistant professor of chemistry at American University.

"Breaking Bad is an entertaining and truly fantastic show. And, it's amazing how much actual chemistry they weave into each episode. Unfortunately, though, the show plays into our preconceived notions that chemists are mad scientists and that chemicals are bad for you," Hartings said. "This reinforces some people's belief that chemicals are things to be avoided when, in fact, we eat, breathe, sleep, and work in a world of chemicals."

Hartings and Declan Fahy, an assistant professor of communication at AU, coauthored a recent article in the journal Nature Chemistry outlining why, of all the sciences, chemistry has perhaps the worst public image and how chemists can help turn that around through improved communication.

A timely message as 2011, the International Year of Chemistry, has chemists and the chemical industry ramping up their communication efforts to honor chemistry's history and showcase the countless ways chemistry has improved everyday life.

Chemophobia

Hartings and Fahy say chemistry's bad rap is a result of "chemophobia," a term coined by chemist and popular science writer Pierre Laszlo referring to the terms most people associate with chemistry: poisons, toxins, chemical warfare, alchemy, sorcery, pollution, and mad scientists.

"One of the reasons that Breaking Bad plays so well is because the public is familiar with the mad scientist/wacky chemist narrative," Hartings said. "What we're not familiar with is all of the other places that chemistry is present in our lives."

Chemophobia is why publishers and television/film production companies avoid using the word "chemistry" in the titles of creative works. They fear that potential consumers will shy away from their products -- some recalling how difficult chemistry might have been in high school and others thinking, "Aren't chemicals bad for you?"

"When Deborah Blum wrote The Poisoner's Handbook, a 2010 book that describes the evolution of forensic science in 1920s America, she suggested the subtitle A True Story of Chemistry, Murder and Jazz Age New York," said Hartings. "But the book's subtitle ended up being Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York because the publisher told Blum putting the word 'chemistry' on the book's cover would sink sales."

Five Steps to Improve Chemistry Communication

In their Nature Chemistry article, Hartings and Fahy outline five communication strategies to help chemists increase public engagement with chemistry and improve the field's public image.

  • Practice research-driven communication. Focus groups, surveys, and interviews can help chemists identify various publics (their attitudes, values, and beliefs) and understand how they get information and form their opinions about chemistry.
  • Understand the audience. Because chemistry is a broad field, it can be relevant to numerous topics (a few examples include pharmaceuticals, renewable energy, and cooking and nutrition) and have numerous audiences.
  • Participate in the new communication landscape. More chemists should use social media, blogs, and online videos to communicate with their peers as well as nonchemists/nonscientists.
  • Tie chemistry to society. Relate chemistry to social issues or broader themes that touch the lives of everyday people.
  • Frame key messages to prompt engagement. Because chemistry is a broad, complex field and can appeal to numerous publics, chemists need to learn frame their messages to encourage public engagement (present a specific issue in a way that shows people the issue's relevancy and application to their lives).

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American University. The original article was written by Maggie Barrett. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew R. Hartings, Declan Fahy. Communicating chemistry for public engagement. Nature Chemistry, 2011; 3 (9): 674 DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1094

Cite This Page:

American University. "Public image of chemistry: Breaking chemistry's bad rap." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110926151737.htm>.
American University. (2011, September 26). Public image of chemistry: Breaking chemistry's bad rap. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110926151737.htm
American University. "Public image of chemistry: Breaking chemistry's bad rap." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110926151737.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans

AP (July 24, 2014) — TSA administrator, John Pistole's took part in the Aspen Security Forum 2014, where he answered questions on lifting of the ban on flights into Israel's Tel Aviv airport and whether politics played a role in lifting the ban. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

Creative Makeovers for Ugly Cellphone Towers

AP (July 24, 2014) — Mobile phone companies and communities across the country are going to new lengths to disguise those unsightly cellphone towers. From a church bell tower to a flagpole, even a pencil, some towers are trying to make a point. (July 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

Algonquin Power Goes Activist on Its Target Gas Natural

TheStreet (July 23, 2014) — When The Deal's Amanda Levin exclusively reported that Gas Natural had been talking to potential suitors, the Ohio company responded with a flat denial, claiming its board had not talked to anyone about a possible sale. Lo and behold, Canadian utility Algonquin Power and Utilities not only had approached the company, but it did it three times. Its last offer was for $13 per share as Gas Natural's was trading at a 60-day moving average of about $12.50 per share. Now Algonquin, which has a 4.9% stake in Gas Natural, has taken its case to shareholders, calling on them to back its proposals or, possibly, a change in the target's board. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-Free Travel

AP (July 23, 2014) — 'Ray' the robotic parking valet at Dusseldorf Airport in Germany lets travelers to avoid the hassle of finding a parking spot before heading to the check-in desk. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:  

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile iPhone Android Web
          Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins