You will recall a review I wrote some time ago of a book called “Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments” by Robert Bruce Thompson, and published by O’Reilly. I liked the book a lot and strongly recommended it for homeschoolers and hobbyists who were serious about chemistry.
Now, we have a news report of someone who appears to be a chemistry hobbyist (no, not cooking meth or making bombs) in Marlboro Massachusetts, who has had his lab dismantled and confiscated by local authorities.
This event is summarized and criticized by RB Thomson, author of the afore mentioned book. Excerpted from Thomson’s commentary, published on the O’Reilly web site, which I strongly recommend reading:
Pamela Wilderman, the code enforcement officer for Marlboro, stated, “I think Mr. Deeb has crossed a line somewhere. This is not what we would consider to be a customary home occupation.”
Allow me to translate Ms. Wilderman’s words into plain English: “Mr. Deeb hasn’t actually violated any law or regulation that I can find, but I don’t like what he’s doing because I’m ignorant and irrationally afraid of chemicals, so I’ll abuse my power to steal his property and shut him down.”
Indeed, the phrase “crossed the line somewhere” should put a chill down the spine of anyone who does anything not absolutely typical in their home … such as home schooling or messing around with science.
I do not yet know the details of this case sufficiently to render an opinion, but I would venture to guess, and I’d bet a five dollar gift certificate to any one of the many fine do-nut establishments one can find in Marlboro Massachusetts, that Thompson has this essentially right.
However, I want to add that Thompson links this event to tyranny and to the “nanny state” tendencies of Massachusetts. By way of correction, I should point out that Marlboro Massachusetts is as politically conservative as any semi-industrial town you’ll find from the Atlantic to the Rust Belt, and Massachusetts is in fact the birthplace of the American Revolution against British Tyranny. I assume Mr. Thompson is very good at labeling his chemical bottles and jars, but maybe in this case not so much when it comes to the culture and politics related to this town.
What we have here, rather than tyranny and nannyhood, is ignorance and fear. Ignorance of how to do ones job, which may be semi-excusable given the unique nature of the situation (but they really should have checked with their lawyers first…) and fear that arises from the post 911 (and post anthrax?) and post-Tylenol mentality, fostered by political forces that I don’t need to tell you about…..