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June 17, 2007
Access To Science
Via Pharyngula, I came across this impassioned blog post on the problems that amateurs (and their children) have getting chemicals, lab equipment, and other science supplies these days. Regulatory attempts to cut down on access to potential explosives and company attempts to dodge potential lawsuits seem to be the main culprits.
I sympathize, and I just hope that the situation isn't as dire as it's made out to be. This isn't a new problem, though. Chemistry kits were already being drained of their more exciting components even in the early 1970s - my father went out and got me some supplemental chemicals back then, including a couple that I probably shouldn't have had. But from the sound of things, it's hard to even do that much under current conditions.
Even outside the hazardous parts of science, there's a general problem with a lot of equipment designed for kids being total junk. As an amateur astronomer, for example, it's not even safe to get me started on some of the telescopes that are sold as ideal for a young observer. And what's even more frustrating is that (compared to my childhood) good telescopes are more affordable and available than ever. There's no excuse for the unk. The situation isn't good in microscopes, either. As far as I can tell, you really have to go to the online surplus and auction sites and buy a used real microscope, if you can find a good one, because the ones marketed as starter instruments are trash.
I grew up with access to a fair telescope, a fine microscope, a good chemistry outfit, and more (model rockets, etc.) - which (now that I look back) was pretty good going on the part of my parents, considering where and when I had these things. I'm making sure that my kids have similar opportunities. There's no substitute for being able to use your hands if you're interested in science growing up. I hope that it's still possible.
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