The Sceptical Chymist | Blogroll: Toxicity and death

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Editor’s note: Now that Neil has left the Nature Chemistry fold to move over to Chemistry World, we have invited bloggers out there in the wild to compose our monthly Blogroll column. Second up is Paul Bracher.


Bloggers breathe life into wounded chemicals and contemplate the death of organic synthesis.

For about a week, the chemical blogosphere became a toxic environment, but the only thing that bloggers sought to poison was public misperception. In a carnival spearheaded by Matt Hartings of American University, over 20 bloggers authored posts about their favourite toxic chemicals. Hartings hosted the carnival on his site, ScienceGeist, in an effort to emphasize that many chemicals demonized in the media as ‘toxic’ have safe uses of immense practical value. “Chemicals aren’t inherently good or bad,” he writes, “in most cases, the danger is in the dosage.”

Dr Rubidium, an analytical chemist who blogs at the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding, contrasted several cases of homicide by the paralytic agent succinylcholine with its medical use in life-saving tracheal intubations. Although that post was shockingly free of swear words, an ode to tetracyanoethylene (TCNE) on Carbon-Based Curiosities was as vulgar as it was informative. Long-time blogger Excimer noted that “even the chemical industry is starting to shy away from chemicals” before proudly hailing applications of TCNE in the synthesis of the first organic ferromagnet and as a “highly efficient unicorn killer.”

And speaking of death…debate over whether to sustain research in organic synthesis flared up again when Chemjobber sifted through a 120-page report on graduate education and found a rather provocative question inspired by Harvard chemist George Whitesides: “Should U.S. graduate students be doing organic synthesis if most organic synthesis is being done in China?”. Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline prefaces his analysis with the statement, “If it hasn’t crossed your mind, you haven’t thought hard enough about the issues yet.”.

Written by Paul Bracher, who blogs at


[As mentioned in this post, we’re posting the monthly blogroll column here on the Sceptical Chymist. This is August’s article]

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