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A special guest post “home science under attack” by Robert Bruce Thompson…

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that Victor Deeb, a retired chemist who lives in Marlboro, has finally been allowed to return to his Fremont Street home, after Massachusetts authorities spent three days ransacking his basement lab and making off with its contents.

Deeb is not accused of making methamphetamine or other illegal drugs. He’s not accused of aiding terrorists, synthesizing explosives, nor even of making illegal fireworks. Deeb fell afoul of the Massachusetts authorities for … doing experiments.

Authorities concede that the chemicals found in Deeb’s basement lab were no more hazardous than typical household cleaning products. Despite that, authorities confiscated “all potentially hazardous chemicals” (which is to say the chemicals in Deeb’s lab) from his home, and called in a hazardous waste cleanup company to test the chemicals and clean up the lab.

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.”

In effect, the Massachusetts authorities have invaded Deeb’s lab, apparently without a warrant, and stolen his property. Deeb, presumably under at least the implied threat of further action, has not objected to the warrantless search and the confiscation of his property. Or perhaps he’s just biding his time. It appears that Deeb has grounds for a nice juicy lawsuit here.

There’s a lesson here for all of us who do science at home, whether we’re home schoolers or DIY science enthusiasts. The government is not our friend. Massachusetts is the prototypical nanny state, of course, but the other 49 aren’t far behind. Any of us could one day find the police at the door, demanding to search our home labs. If that day comes, I will demand a warrant and waste no time getting my attorney on the phone.

There’s a word for what just happened in Massachusetts. Tyranny. And it’s something none of us should tolerate.

 Makershedsmall
Robert Bruce Thompson is the author of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments – For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs, who can no longer get real chemistry sets, this one-of-a-kind guide explains how to set up and use a home chemistry lab, with step-by-step instructions for conducting experiments in basic chemistry. Learn how to smelt copper, purify alcohol, synthesize rayon, test for drugs and poisons, and much more. The book includes lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab, along with 17 hands-on chapters that include multiple laboratory sessions.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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