"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Death Penalty to Chemists

Browsing through my Facebook feed this morning, I came across a post made by a chemistry professor at the Ateneo de Manila University. The post touched on a proposed bill that would bring back the death penalty in the Philippines. Similar to the war on drugs, the reimposition of the death penalty seemed to cater to a natural propensity to take drastic actions when facing a crisis. The previous Aquino adminsitration had allowed a dramatic increase in crime rates. The Philippines Statistics authority, for instance, shared the following data, "For the entire 2014, the total number of reported crimes was 1.2 million, up from 1 million in 2013. In 2012, only 218,000 crimes were reported." This increase in the crime rate had been quickly attributed to widespread drug abuse instead of a weak police force, crumbling judicial system, widespread poverty, and failing basic education. Ignoring the root causes of crime, lawmakers had simply leaped off the walls of reason as they tried to reinstate the death penalty.



As Professor Guidote pointed out in a later comment, even the simple organic compound, ethanol, could be regarded as a precursor or an essential chemical for dangerous drugs. Part of the proposed bill did mention precursor and essential chemicals although acts involving these only required fines and imprisonment, not the death penalty.

Above copied from HB 4727
Nevertheless, the bill as proposed seemed ill-thought-out or simply hasty. Lawmakers and, of course, the general public do need to listen to experts. Formulating the correct solutions to problems society faces requires experts. Unfortunately, in times of distress, only the voice of demagogues, not those of experts, is heard. It is very easy to take advantage of popular desires and prejudices especially at a time of crisis. For this reason, it is really important that scientists speak. The problem is that even when a scientist speaks, his or her voice is often ignored.

This brings me back to a post on this blog three years ago:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Learning Science in Everyday Life"


There seems to be a disconnect between science and what is popular. Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times"Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates." It is ironic when a great number of issues and challenges the world currently faces require a science perspective, scientists are deemed irrelevant. The perceived chasm between what is discussed inside the classroom and what happens in the "real world" perhaps originates from the fact that it is usually not straightforward to abstract. This definitely brings back memories on how a lot of people during my childhood thought that all I knew was from "books", implying that I virtually had no practical value.

Along this line, it is not surprising to see a great need to engage students in science. The popular notion seems to be working against science education. Popular media as well as social networking have had greater impact on how the public should think. In the Philippines, a major television news outlet broadcasts a case of "flesh-eating" curse in the province of Pangasinan:

Philippines' ABS-CBN reports that there is a mysterious flesh-eating illness that is slowly spreading across the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines
The above spread very quickly especially on Facebook and a past prophecy made by Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj claiming that such an illness will originate and spread from Pangasinan became an "instant hit". What is popular in the real world is usually not vetted properly. A science education is supposed to help the public develop not just critical thinking skills, but also the ability to recognize which sources of information are reliable. "Says who?" apparently was the most common comment made by SciJourner managing editor Alan Newman to articles submitted by students, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Polman, J. L. and Hope, J. M.G. (2014), Science news stories as boundary objects affecting engagement with science. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 315–341. doi: 10.1002/tea.21144).

SciJourner is a science literacy project from the University of Missouri at St. Louis. SciJourner basically provides an opportunity for teenagers (middle and high school students) to write and publish news articles. In order for an article to be accepted for publication, the following must be met:
Above copied from Polman, J. L. and Hope, J. M.G. (2014), Science news stories as boundary objects affecting engagement with science. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 315–341. doi: 10.1002/tea.21144
The following is among the recent articles:

When I was younger, I had my ears pierced. I remember being so excited because I’d get to wear earrings like my grandmother did. A few weeks after, my ears still had not healed. In fact, they were worse than when I had first gotten them pierced. My earlobes were turning purple and hurting badly. I did everything I was told to do to keep them clean and healthy, but they were not getting better. My mother took me to the doctor, who found out that I’m allergic to nickel. This means that I cannot wear jewelry with any kind of nickel alloy.
Jewelry, especially earrings, can affect those with nickel allergies. Photo Credit: Sarah Gebken.
My allergy is fairly mild compared to other people. MeredithWestrich, a student at a St. Louis County high school that has an allergy to nickel, says, “When I was younger I tried to play the flute, but I had an allergic reaction.”
According to WebMD, people with even more extreme allergies cannot eat certain foods with high nickel content, such as chocolate and fish, because they cause health problems.
The skin rash that goes with metal allergies is known as contact dermatitis, according to MayoClinic.org. This is when the skin comes into contact with nickel and breaks out into a rash, is raised, or turns a red in color where contact with the metal took place. With contact dermatitis your skin may feel itchy. It can also cause a painful burning sensation.
Sarah Stein, a faculty member at a St. Louis area high school, has experienced this with a necklace and says, “One of my eyes swelled shut and I had a rash on my face and neck for about 6 weeks.”
Also, according to MayoClinic.org, nickel allergies are the most common cause of contact dermatitis and affects about 8% of the population. The effect of nickel allergies is more common in women than in men.
Nickel allergies are on the rise. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), somewhere between 10–15% of Americans having an allergy to nickel, and most of that 10-15% are women. Experts are not completely sure, but they think the rise has to do with cheap jewelry having higher nickel content.
Nickel is used in many pieces of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is cheap and easily produced with nickel. According to NIH, 31.8% of allergic reactions due to nickel happen due to the use of costume jewelry. Many costume jewelry companies use nickel so their profits will go up instead of using more expensive metals such as gold. Unfortunately, for those of us with nickel allergies, that means buying more expensive jewelry and being unsure of what contains nickel and what does not.  
There are technologies out there to help those of us with nickel allergies. A sophisticated technology that is in the process of becoming an option is a nanotechnology created by scientists at Harvard in 2011. JeffreyKaup, a nanotechnology expert at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his colleagues have been working to develop a cream that could act as a barrier to nickel products. This product only uses ingredients recognized as “safe agents” unlike other nickel allergy treatments on the market today. They have tested this cream on pig skin and live mice but have not yet on human subjects. So far, the experiment results look promising.
With my nickel allergy I tend to just avoid jewelry all together. Occasionally I’ll wear a necklace or bracelet, but only for a couple hours. Recently I have had to start thinking of my class ring and worrying about what metal to get. I got the metal lustrium but I had to do a little research before I made the decision. 

When asked if she would use medicines in the future to help nickel allergies, Westrich says, “I had to take medicine when I was younger, I think it was steroids, but I haven’t tried anything recently. I might try treatments again if I have another really bad reaction.” Sarah Gebken

Programs such as SciJourner can help improve scientific literacy. Unfortunately, major news outlets and social networks can easily work against these efforts.


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