Science
Theo Gray on why “safety” is overrated
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The most awesome Theo Gray, author of the I-can’t-recommend-it-highly-enough Mad Science, has a post on Powell’s Books blog about his book and the dangers it contains (the subtitle is “Experiments You Can Do at Home — But Probably Shouldn’t”). He writes:

Is it irresponsible to write a mass-market book that describes how to do dangerous science experiments? It used to be very common. I have books from the early 1800s through the mid 1900s that would make your hair stand on end. One 1930s book from none other than the Popular Science Press includes the recipe for Armstrong’s mixture, a friction-sensitive explosive notorious for blowing hands off while it’s being mixed.

But that’s ancient history now. Books of home science, and even classroom chemistry at the high school level, are filled with baking soda and vinegar science. The Dangerous Book for Boys, for example, is completely devoid of danger.

Surely recommending only perfectly safe experiments is a good thing, isn’t it?

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12 thoughts on “Theo Gray on why “safety” is overrated

  1. There is no harm in ‘dangerous’ experiments. The key is to know the danger and act accordingly. How else do you learn if you do not take the occasional risk?

    Today’s Health & Safety driven world is stifling.

    As a kid I did many dangerous things but ALWAYS took precautions. Common sense is the key. Teach your kids to have fun and how to take care.

  2. This article is bang on, not only in the US but in the UK too. I was lucky enough to have chemistry teachers brave enough to show the awesome, dangerous side of science, which inspired me to go onto study a degree in Chemistry. Science for me has always been about the whizzes, the bangs, the things catching fire when they shouldn’t, and it truly saddens me to see so much health and safety strangling a once proud subject.

  3. Our betters have worked long and hard to take every risk out of life. Loaned cash out to the wrong people? Bailout. Rather eat out twice a month than buy your own health insurance? Socialized. Smoke? Tax.

    The safety nazis have put great effort into the barn and fences they’ve erected for us. Stop worrying about the grass on the other side, the hay they feed us is good enough.

  4. The most dangerous chapters in the book “The Dangerous Book for Boys” are the three on grammar, the one on Latin phrases, and the one on poems every boy should know. These could lead a boy to being an English major, or even a lawyer! (Just kidding Mr. Lawyer. Don’t sue me!)
    Mad Science might lead someone to be an engineer, a chemist, or even a Maker. We need them all. It is absurd that in a world dominated by electricity, almost nobody understands Ohm’s law. Sure, there may be some risk. Sitting around watching TV is riskier, with a mind wasted and skills not learned.

  5. Yeah, thats the modern lawyer infested bubble wrapped society for ya! People think I’m crazy watching the things I do but I really don’t care. I know the risk levels and as a free person I choose do to it with appropriate care. There are too man mommies in today’s world.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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