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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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August 7, 2012

GSK's Anti-Doping Ad

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Posted by Derek

GSK%20Olympics.jpg
Courtesy of a reader in the UK, here's an ad from GlaxoSmithKline that I don't think has been seen much on this side of the Atlantic. I hadn't realized that they were involved in the drug testing for the London games; it's interesting that their public relations folks feel that it's worth highlighting. They're almost certainly right - I think one of the major objections people have when they hear of a case of athletic doping is a violation of the spirit of fair play.

But one can certainly see the hands of the advertising people at work. The napthyl rings for the double-O of "blood" are a nice touch, but the rest of the "chemistry" is complete nonsense. Update: it's such complete nonsense that they have the double bonds in the napthyl banging into each other, which I hadn't even noticed at first. Is it still a "Texas Carbon" when it's from London? In fact, it's so far off that it took me a minute of looking at the image to realize that the reason things were written so oddly was that the words were supposed to be more parts of a chemical formula. It's that wrong - the chemical equivalent of one of those meaningless Oriental language tattoos.

But as in the case of the tattoos, it probably gets its message across to people who've never been exposed to any of the actual symbols and syntax. I'd be interested to know if this typography immediately says "Chemistry!" to people who don't know any. I don't have many good opportunities to test that, though - everyone around me during the day knows the lingo!

Comments (52) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Analytical Chemistry | General Scientific News


COMMENTS

1. Curt F. on August 7, 2012 7:43 AM writes...

What surprises me most about the ad is how the photo itself undercuts the textual message. Additional substances necessary to win would seem to be:

1. The fiberglass the uneven bar is made of. Although "fiberglass" has been around for a long time, it was only in the last 150 years that chemists and others improved fiberglass production to the point where it could be reliably manufactured into flexible, load-bearing apparatuses.

2. The chalk that is plainly visible on Beth Tweddle's hands. Chemists can probably claim less victory here since I bet chalk has been used as a lubricant for a very long time, but it is definitely a substance, and I bet without it Beth Tweddle wouldn't "win".

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2. UKPI on August 7, 2012 7:44 AM writes...

Earlier this week I spotted one that had a hashed bond coming off a benzene ring...

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3. Will on August 7, 2012 7:47 AM writes...

let's not even get started with the number of chemicals in her hair and on her face. why female gymnasts are compelled or coerced to wear make-up while competing in a sporting event has always been beyond me

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4. PPedroso on August 7, 2012 8:00 AM writes...

Here is another one:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-gieVKjHWARU/UBpKucDQr8I/AAAAAAAAAcg/VNXps8c4gcQ/s1600/GSKcopyrightGymnastBethTweddle.jpg

I mean they could've used the Au symbol... :)

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5. The Iron Chemist on August 7, 2012 8:01 AM writes...

So her blood's full of napthylene? And her sweat's full of astatine? That can't be healthy.

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6. Tony on August 7, 2012 8:20 AM writes...

as a non-chemist, I can say that it says something. It says they need to hire better marketing people.

Seriously, I get they are trying to invoke 'chemistry' but the way the type is setup just makes it harder to read and looks kind of sloppy. I can't tell what the focus of the visual is supposed to be.

Full disclosure: My wife is a graphic designer, and goes off on this stuff all the time.

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7. D.J. on August 7, 2012 8:23 AM writes...

As a non-chemist (no chem classes ever), I can say that the typesetting looks 'chemical-ish' to me, but only because of the napthyl rings for the Os in blood. That clues me in that the weird upper-/lower-case settings are chemical elements. If it weren't for that, I'd think that someone was trying to be cute, and failing miserably. So from that standpoint (trying to get reasonably intelligent non-chemists to think of chemistry), it's a success (at least in my case).

By the way, what on earth is that d+ at the end of blood supposed to be?

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8. PPedroso on August 7, 2012 8:28 AM writes...

@7

it means that the blood is positively charged and that just destroys the whole idea because the only charged blood that I know is the one pumped up with steroids! :P

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9. MoMo on August 7, 2012 8:44 AM writes...

They must of been watching that abomination of mass media, society and science "Breaking Bad"- Using elemental symbols as letters in words.

I hear some of the athletes shock themselves with electric cattle prods for the extra jolt before a performance. Where are those Ads?

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10. Chris D on August 7, 2012 8:54 AM writes...

Yeah, for us non-chemistry people it evokes chemistry just fine. It evokes it for you, too, or you wouldn't have written the post. :-)

As a software engineer, computer Uis in movies used to annoy me until I saw an interview with someone who designs them: turns out the purpose is to quickly tell a part of the story, not be accurate.

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11. petros on August 7, 2012 9:03 AM writes...

Shame that all the drug testing is done at the old CNS research site at Harlow that GSK ran down and closed.

Still it was still in good shape unlike the empty, and apparently derelict Merck CNS site in the same town.

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12. Hap on August 7, 2012 9:07 AM writes...

That assumes that accuracy of the structures and pictures and conveying the point of the ad/story are mutually exclusive - while that may be true of the technical tools required in movies and TV (at least sometimes), it isn't true here. They could have done both with little difficulty.

When they could have easily drawn the pictures accurately but didn't one assumes that they were either intentionally stupid or didn't care enough either to get input from people who knew what they were doing or to get proofreading help from people who might know what they're doing. I'm sure it says different things to nonchemistry people, but for the people (left) working at GSK, for example, it says that the people in your company don't care too much about the accuracy of what they do or don't know or care about the substance of what you do. Not really a good message, I think.

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13. fredo on August 7, 2012 9:17 AM writes...

As a Londoner I spotted one of those ads and it just confused me (it was the gold one). As well as the chemistry being rubbish it's also not really clear to non chemists that the other letters are meant to form part of the chemistry... So the people who get it know it's rubbish, and everyone else wonders why there's a picture of honey comb. It's worth noting that Beth Tweddle is awesome too, if no one has pointed it out.

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14. Anonymous on August 7, 2012 9:28 AM writes...

On a serious note, GSK's involvement is much more than an attempt to garner some good publicity, though I'm sure that will be welcome too. Here is some tangible proof of a genuine commitment to safeguard the legacy of the games:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/526a200e-db15-11e1-8074-00144feab49a.html#axzz22s1V8qmP

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15. Schniber on August 7, 2012 9:36 AM writes...

Derek sometime goes overboard with his moral chemical police thing....
Come on...Its a well done picture..

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16. Anonymous on August 7, 2012 9:51 AM writes...

Yeah come on lighten up people. I actually quite like this ad, and I'm a chemist! (Although I do agree with Petros - the SB/GSK Harlow site was a great place a few years ago)

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17. Rob on August 7, 2012 9:53 AM writes...

There are a lot of similar images with other athletes on the GSK Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/glaxosmithkline

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18. GC on August 7, 2012 10:05 AM writes...

Hey, it's crap chemistry by non-chemists.

And yes, working in computers for a living, I go fucknuts at the horrible ways computers are illustrated, especially since they're a lot more common in average life than drug discovery.

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19. Anonymous on August 7, 2012 12:27 PM writes...

May the Sun never set on the British Empire Carbon.

Of course the ad is pop-culture, commercially correct, indulgent nonsense, but our_intentions_were good!

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20. anon2 on August 7, 2012 1:28 PM writes...

#17's link: So much for "good will"...ha....this is consistent with SIR Andrew's total approach toward managing the company....which is to garner as much personal political gain as possible at the company's financial and strategic expense. Stockholders need to wise-up and tell Sir A to better focus the group in the interest of ALL stockholders and employees WORLDWIDE.

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21. SLi on August 7, 2012 2:23 PM writes...

Hmm, no. I took some mandatory chemistry in high school, but that's it -- and I've forgotten almost everything of it, as it wasn't one of my favorite subjects. The two (napthyl?) rings do clearly evoke chemistry to me, but that's the only obvious thing that does so to me.

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22. ex-GSK on August 7, 2012 4:57 PM writes...

Thanks for the GSK link Rob - I especially like the benzene rings with the stereochemistry indicated for the substituents. Maybe Moncef or Patrick advised them on the chemistry - I think Sirtris used the same 'special' carbons in their great compounds.

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23. Matt B. on August 7, 2012 5:12 PM writes...

This could just as easily be an ad for EPO.

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24. matt on August 7, 2012 5:20 PM writes...

What about the harder question? An individual doper likely does not have the resources to fool testing on their own, but what about the possibility of deep-pocketed organizations? (An national team determined to win--East Germany--or well-funded teams in certain cycling events?) It seems like there are a dozen or more synthetic cannabinoid agents which evade detection in blood tests; how hard is it for a dedicated pharmaceutical team to find undetected analogs for performance enhancing targets?

Or, nowadays, to re-inject the athletes own cells, suitably modified to provide some benefit.

In some ways, it's like a drug researchers dream, right? No worries about obscure toxicity beyond LD50, don't even really have to sweat efficacy all that much (randomized trials? ha!), you'll never have to deal with the FDA or equivalents. Sadly, because if you did sweat efficacy and safety, you might be able to make something available to all.

The only chance I see for the defense in this game is that they keep samples for years, and eventually rivalry/conscience/backstabbing/blabbing will out past usage.

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25. Anonymous on August 7, 2012 6:05 PM writes...

What are they advertising? Is anyone looking at this thinking "Hey GSK are doing Olympic drug testing (which I don't believe they are anyway) maybe I'll go out ang buy me some Lapatinib"?

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26. Athena on August 7, 2012 6:08 PM writes...

To be entirely fair to them, at first glance this *does* speak "Chemistry" to me. Yes, it's utter bull, and at even just a long glance I can tell this. My scientific preference lies in genetics, but I've been exposed to a fair dose of chemistry during my academic career.

It's only supposed to give an overall impression of "Chemistry", and if you realise it's meant to do that, it has basically done its job. It's an ad, not a chemical formulae, and for that, it doesn't really need to be.

I can still sympathise with the pedantic twitches, though, yeah :P

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27. Anonymous on August 7, 2012 6:10 PM writes...

Ar could be used for arsenic, but killing off one's competition is hardly sportsmanlike behavior. F for GSK on this, and I'm not even a chemist.

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28. sepisp on August 8, 2012 2:57 AM writes...

I'm a chemical engineer and I didn't see any "chemistry" in the ad at first glance. I just saw some odd typesetting. It's like if you know a language, and then someone presents fake gobbledygook that's supposed to sound similar, you don't recognize it. You're trained on the little, significant details and expect symbols in a certain, defined order, and when they're missing, there is no recognition. A better analogy would be face recognition from smiley faces: if you just have a circle, arc and two dots, but they're in random order, it's not a face.

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29. andre on August 8, 2012 6:49 AM writes...

Maybe a good challenge would be for the community here to come up with a slogan or advert that GSK could have used that is chemically correct, interesting, and distinct to a non-chemist viewer.

I bet someone here could come up with something pretty cool (and hopefully more accurate).

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30. UKPI on August 8, 2012 7:26 AM writes...

@29 Correcting the factual mistakes in the drawings would take at most 20 seconds per poster...that's why it is so frustrating to see all this crap. If the designers had taken the effort to speak to a chemist for only a few minutes they would not have made GSK look like complete idiots.

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31. UKPI on August 8, 2012 7:27 AM writes...

@29 Correcting the factual mistakes in the drawings would take at most 20 seconds per poster...that's why it is so frustrating to see all this crap. If the designers had taken the effort to speak to a chemist for only a few minutes they would not have made GSK look like complete idiots.

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32. sjb on August 8, 2012 8:01 AM writes...

@2. UKPI Hashed bonds coming off a benzene ring aren't all that bad, it depends on whether you subscribe to the perspective drawing school for hash/wedge bonds or not

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33. UKPI on August 8, 2012 8:17 AM writes...

@32. sjb: Not sure what you mean, but this is the poster I was referring to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glaxosmithkline/7561661214/in/photostream

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34. sjb on August 8, 2012 9:37 AM writes...

Ahh, in that case, yes, the carbon is "clearly" non-asymmetric. As to what I mean, see page 1905, bottom left in the document at http://pac.iupac.org/publications/pac/pdf/2006/pdf/7810x1897.pdf and the discussion in the text around it.

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35. Anonymous on August 8, 2012 10:19 AM writes...

"It's that wrong - the chemical equivalent of one of those meaningless Oriental language tattoos."

I believe the correct term is "Asian language tattoos." Please correct this in the original article.

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36. Peej on August 8, 2012 10:49 AM writes...

I'm fascinated that so many people who have never had a class in Chemistry visit a Medicinal Chemists blog.

Whats the deal with that?

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37. ddddddd on August 8, 2012 11:12 AM writes...

I don't know why people are so bent on deriding the "chemistry" in this advertisement.

Sure, it doesn't make much chemical sense, but that isn't the point of the poster - the napthyl(-ish) rings are enough to evoke the idea that this has to do with chemistry/chemical analysis.

Perhaps GSK think that the average observer is intelligent enough to realise that chemists do their chemistry (and not graphic designers).

Also, it's small minded to point out that chemicals make up Beth Tweddle's chalk dust, hairspray etc. Again, anyone with an iota of intelligence would realise that the poster is talking about rule-breaking with performance-enhancing chemicals. Not chalk.

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38. Secondaire on August 8, 2012 11:18 AM writes...

Hmm. I have to give them credit for a novel concept, and it looks nice, but as a chemist, it looks ridiculous to me. Both the posters (this and the Gold one) have chemical gibberish. A for effort, big fat F for execution.

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39. ChemBob on August 8, 2012 11:47 AM writes...

Anyone have any idea why they used m-toluidine in their other ads. I know the o-toloidine is used to test for blood (thanks undergraduate forensics). Wouldn't it have been easier and just as effective to the general public to leave it as a benzene?

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40. Anonymous on August 8, 2012 12:22 PM writes...

These advertisements are similar to those for something concerning Russia that use reversed R’s and N’s.
As a chemist and someone who knows some Russian I find them both stupid and ignorant.
Can’t these people come up with something which is both clever and correct?

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41. newnickname on August 8, 2012 1:52 PM writes...

@30 UKPI: 1st: click "Post" and WAIT before trying to repost. The system is slow. 2nd: I agree. They should CERTAINLY have had a real chemist approve these foolish ads.

And someone in marketing is fixated on a benzene ring being the only way to represent the letter O. It's in every one of those GSK ads.

GSK should have gotten the Google logo guy to do their ads. He knows more chemistry.

If you want to see more stupid chemistry drawings in a real chem journal, try: J Chem Info Comput Sci, 1990, 30, 69-72. (A chemical "trident" in Fig 10. Ugh.).

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42. occidentalman on August 9, 2012 7:32 AM writes...

'those meaningless Oriental language tattoos'

Actually most of them say things like:

'I am a Western @#%$£'
or
'I am a dick!'

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43. David on August 9, 2012 10:20 AM writes...

I'm still torn on whether I like these ads or not. Yes, they've got chemistry in, but the chemistry (as has been discussed above) is botched... stereochemistry indicated on bonds from benzene is a main issue. Random colons, italics and so on.

Anyway, I decided to make a few of my own, partly parody, partly homage. There are two collections so far:

http://davechessgames.blogspot.com/2012/08/chemistry-advertising-glaxo-smith-kline.html

http://davechessgames.blogspot.com/2012/08/chemistry-advertising-glaxosmithkline.html

Just to show you don't have to be gold medal class to know that doping is a bad idea. And yes, the Benzene = Letter O motif is a little overworn, but that's all part of it.

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44. kim on August 9, 2012 10:47 AM writes...

GlaskoSmithKline is in theory, a reputable drug company, however, when they use advertising such as this, it is clear that they are simply trying to appear scientific to the masses (who are not necessarily well versed in chemistry) without having to own up to the actual chemical structures/symbols used. This is similar to using actors in white lab coats to do drug commercials when the fine print states that they are not actually a medical professional. It is all an advertising ploy to gain the trust of the general public.

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45. overthetop on August 9, 2012 11:22 AM writes...

Of course it's scientific gibberish, and of course it is effective to the general, nonscientific population. When have marketing folks ever bothered asking the actual scientists if their graphics are correct? I don't think I've ever even met someone in marketing at my company.

The snarky comments about "substances" seem a bit elementary, no? Anyone with at least a middle school education level or higher should be able to connect what "substances" and "anti-doping" means. Scientific accuracy failure, intended marketing message success.

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46. AH on August 9, 2012 11:58 AM writes...

I've been working in biotech for a dozen years and I'm also an elite-level amateur cyclist (no, never good enough to go to the Olympics) so perhaps I can shed some light on GSK's motivation behind the ad.

As many of you have mentioned, of course the ad isn't intended for chemists or industry people. It's intended for athletes and the general public. There is a shocking misconception among athletes and the public that pharmaceutical companies are actively developing drugs for the sole purposes of enhancing athletic performance. What they don't seem to realize is that every drug used for sport doping was developed and intended for very sick people. Clever athletes and unscrupulous doctors have devised ways to use those drugs for sport doping.

Pointing out the obvious chemical nonsense in the ad may be fun but it misses the key argument: That not only is the pharmaceutical industry NOT actively developing drugs for doping purposes, it is collaborating with anti-doping agencies to fight the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes.

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47. AH on August 9, 2012 12:10 PM writes...

I've been working in biotech for a dozen years and I'm also an elite-level amateur cyclist (no, never good enough to go to the Olympics) so perhaps I can shed some light on GSK's motivation behind the ad.

As many of you have mentioned, of course the ad isn't intended for chemists or industry people. It's intended for athletes and the general public. There is a shocking misconception among athletes and the public that pharmaceutical companies are actively developing drugs for the sole purposes of enhancing athletic performance. What they don't seem to realize is that every drug used for sport doping was developed and intended for very sick people. Clever athletes and unscrupulous doctors have devised ways to use those drugs for sport doping.

Pointing out the obvious chemical nonsense in the ad may be fun but it misses the key argument: That not only is the pharmaceutical industry NOT actively developing drugs for doping purposes, it is collaborating with anti-doping agencies to fight the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes.

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48. Hap on August 9, 2012 12:19 PM writes...

The motivation behind the ads is fine, but they could have tried a little harder (or at all) to get their drawings right - they used to have a lot of people who knew about such things, and could have given then quick and readily implementable advice on how to make chemical sense while keeping their message intact and clear.

If a company whose business revolves around chemistry can't avoid getting the chemistry in their ads obviously wrong, they either don't care about the ad or (more likely) don't care about the chemistry. The latter is likely to irk the audience here, because there are so many chemists in it (some of whom may have been at GSK).

Still better than GA Tech's fail, though.

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49. A.N. Other on August 9, 2012 5:22 PM writes...

#48
Exactly.
A chemical company can't represent a chemical. All you need to know about why things are the way they are.
It would be as if McDonalds - supplier of the official burger of the XXX Olympiad - illustrated a bun sandwiched between meat on its advertisements.

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50. D.J. on August 9, 2012 5:26 PM writes...

@36: Why/how do non-chem people get here?

For me, it was a link from Instapundit. I thought it was to Derek's CF_3 post (http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2008/02/26/sand_wont_save_you_this_time.php), but I can't find anything in Glenn Reynolds's archives from around that time that shows a link.

The 'Things I Won't Work With' category, and then 'How Not To Do It' got me hooked, and I've come back semi-regularly ever since.

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51. newnickname on August 10, 2012 10:51 AM writes...

@43 David: Stick to chess. (Sorry. I didn't like your ads.)

Does anyone here remember ads that were chemically CORRECT that inspired you as a kid? Maybe ads by DuPont, GE, Merck ... A mysterious (but correct) chemical structure with important specialized, scientific meaning. "I want to grow up and learn that stuff, know what it means and maybe even make molecules myself!!" Today's kids see this GSK chemistry gibberish. If a teacher explains to them the mistakes, what's the lesson? "You don't have to know science. The money is in advertising, not science."

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52. Jonadab on August 13, 2012 6:28 PM writes...

The two hexagons scream biochemistry, but the rest of it just looks like somebody was TweDdLInG ShIFt wHIlE tYPiNg and then went back and randomly "italicized" some of the letters for no reason.

(By "italicized" here I of course mean the slanty thing consumer-grade word processing software does when you tell it to italicize something in a font family that doesn't have an actual italic face. Typography nerds know it as "oblique", but nobody else would know what I meant if I called it that.)

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