Combatting Chemophobia Like A Boss

The missing panel talk from Combatting Chemophobia: Speaking science to distrust and engaging with empathy, online, and face-to-face.

The Panel

Chemists should serve the broader public, including better educating people in the nature and uses of chemistry.  This requires communicating with different segments of the public and engaging in different modes of communication.  Whether talking to media or to people online, speaking on behalf of professional organizations like ACS or speaking to our neighbors, our attempts to communicate impact people's understanding of chemistry and of the kind of people chemists are.

Participants in this panel discussion will describe their chemistry outreach experiences, engaging with groups whose opinions on chemistry range from curiosity and misunderstanding to concern and mistrust.  Panelists will describe what has made their own attempts to communicate successful and lessons learned from less successful attempts. We examine a diverse array of outreach efforts to build a repertoire of strategies for engaging with different communities.

Leigh Krietsch Boerner writes about the science of consumer products and works to address chemophobia from product marketing and rampant misinformation on the internet. 

Brandi VanAlphen examines impacts of industry supported messages on the public's understanding of chemistry and of chemists, and discusses how corporations can convey a better understanding of science while addressing the public's distrust of their motives.

Matthew Hartings uses food and cooking to engage large groups of non-scientists with chemistry in the classroom and in public lectures and will discuss how his outreach has been informed by the science of communicating science.

Chad Jones explores audiovisual outreach (podcasts and videos) as a way to make chemistry exciting and accurate.

Raychelle Burks is a blogger and activities coordinator using the intersection of chemistry and pop culture as an outreach tool.

Kevin Shanks is a forensic toxicologist and drug chemist whose activities include community and media outreach through social media and blogging about toxicology, drug laws, and other things forensic.

My Presentation 

Transcript Version
  1. Hi my name is Brandi VanAlphen, but mostly I am known as BranVanChemist through twitter. Today, I am here to talk about chemophobia and its impacts on business and industry. What we hear about a business is what we hear, see or read on mass media. This is relevant because no matter the subject matter, the reality is we all work with or for these industries and we are the workforce, I am from Oklahoma which is the center for oil and gas industry. I sometimes refer to us as district 12 because we supply energy/fuel and lets face it, there isnt much else there.
  2. Here is a headline most of you are familiar with- fracking and earthquakes. There is a lot of debate and discussion, but the reality is that the science experts are not in front of this. I am going to explain to you why business strategies need to change and how this relates to chemophobia. Sidenote: yes the whole quakenado thing is true. I have felt and been in all of them it seems like. By now, if the severe weather isn’t producing F5 damage, I am not concerned with it. 
  3. In business, the company’s brand is their driving force to how they will perform. When digital content is created in regards to the chemical industry, I refer to this as chemical branding. It seems as if everyone on the internet is an expert about the chemicals a company uses except for the actual business itself. This is a problem. The knowledge of chemistry and scientific truth sometimes overlap public opinion, but is certainly not defined by it. We are the experts and without business cooperation, marketing collaboration and science communication, the online presence of chemophobia will continue to hurt, and even discredit our profession, if not the industry. This is crucial to Industrial Revolution 2.0 (the revised chemical version). 
  4. Here we have two advertisements from two different eras in the chemical industry. Once upon a time, you could put babies and kids next to petroleum products because that made them family friendly and cute. Recently, I can only find BASF still supporting their pride as a chemical company in their marketing and advertising. Chemical businesses are no longer in the business of promoting their chemical brand. This has to change
  5. Here is an example of consumer driven information and content hurting a business. There is this app called Think Dirty that will scan any barcode of your beauty and cosmetic products. Then it will list the ingredients of the product and rate it on a scale of 1-10 in terms of toxicity. Here is a screenshot of a product I use as a personal test to the app. First of all, L’oreal is a pretty solid company, that doesn't put out toxic products. Newsflash: this is why they are still in business. Secondly, what I found was completely wrong. They were listing cyclohexasiloxane as a toxic ingredient when in which they were doing something I call a classic google search gone wrong. Chemistry is its own language so someone researching a chemical is a loaded and dangerous in terms of science communication. classic google search gone wrong. Firstly, you have to be experience and knowledgeable about silicones because they are a large group of compounds. Depending on the formula and degree of polymerization, defines their characteristics. Secondly, this information is usually patent protected so we use general terms when it comes to ingredient labels. It takes chemists and the talent culture of that company to address the concerns or mismanagement of info. All of this leaves a digital footprint that is then available to the public who are heavily dependent on google search results. Is that how you want your business to be branded? How about your research in connection to? This also presents a nightmare to social media managers everywhere who do not have a scientific background. They are forced to research things they do not know or are trained to explain on a level that control consumer content. Can anyone guess what most do? Thats right- google search. 
  6. So in order to change chemophobia in relation to business and the chemical industry-chemists (or their own talent culture) need to address consumer driven content, create their own and collaborate with similar brands across social media. Networking with others in their industry, professional organizations relating to chemicals and educating consumers through this engagement will help shape the future of the industry and our own professional brand as chemists. Business need take advantage of chemistry having the history of being able to be self-defined. 
  7. My last job interview was at an R&D Fracking fluid company. My experience was much like that first headline I showed you. Before the interview I did some research on the company and found out that the vice president of this company created a biobased terpene mixture solvent-a citrus based, biodegradable, sustainable and renewable product. I did rigorous petroleum organic geochemistry research for two years and the solvents (xylene and toluene) were used in mass quantities, not to mention, long term exposure taking a toll on my health . I was excited to tour the plant and meet the research team. Why is it---we don’t see or know more chemical innovations like these? Let’s help re-brand the business, the chemist and the next chemical revolution.Thank you
Panel Presentation

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