Tuesday, March 24, 2015

An objection to tattoos

From this week's C&EN, an unhappy letter writer: 
The profile of tattooed “chemistry ambassador” Randa Roland is beneath the level of your magazine’s aspirations (C&EN, Jan. 19, page 30). First, Roland errs in describing Fritz Haber as “trying to do good” and succeeding when he developed the Haber process during World War I. Haber was explicitly trying to convert elementary nitrogen chemically to ammonia to be used in synthesizing explosives in the interest of the German war effort. 
Moreover, he directed the chemical warfare effort of the German forces that developed the use of poison gas. History has not been kind to the alleged “good” of these activities. 
Second, showing one’s chemistry-themed tattoos around is more likely to develop interest in tattoos than science. Gimmicks never really work, because STEM study requires hard thinking, not oohing and aahing. 
Al Holtzer
St. Louis
"STEM study requires hard thinking, not oohing and aahing." That kind of talk won't get you anywhere these days, Mr. Holtzer! Kids demand excitement from science! 

24 comments:

  1. Worshiping symbology and emphasizing style over substance sounds about par for the course in higher education today. Kids do demand excitement and balk whenever their brains aren't pumping out the dopamine at full bore. Hey, don't change the channel… look, skulls ☠ … and flames 焱 … ooh, ahh! And so the hand-wringing about how to improve chemical education will continue forever. "How should we teach chemistry? We've tried pandering to them, and we've tried lowering expectations, but students still have to strain their brains to learn chemistry!'

    I present to you, the Ambassadors: http://www.reddit.com/r/badtattoos

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  2. Ain't that the truth. The kids pay attention to me carefully at the CC Im an adjunct at when I do a demonstration. *sigh*

    Maybe I should just stop the demo's to dissuade nice kids from going into a dying field that is rapidly being insourced and outsourced.

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    1. I agree. It's a noble thing to teach science, but it's a despicable thing to encourage it as a career.

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  3. You can still thinking hard and having tattoos. The ink is not needled into the brain. Proud to be a chemist and biophysicist with 2 tattoos.

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    1. Unfortunate typo.
      Sorry, I couldn't resist!

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. True. If Infected Mushroom can get people excited about psy-trance electronic music without any tattoos, I can damn well get kids excited in chemistry by showing them my ramen lifestyle and my awesome Jackass pubz.

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  5. "emphasizing style over substance sounds about par for the course in higher education today"

    *cough*...STEM shortage....*cough* Apparently, you don't actually need tattoos or body art or explosions to get people to learn chemistry for the wrong reasons.

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  6. My chemistry themed tattoo was not a means to be hipper or impress people, it was a means to personalize and humanize the hard work and sacrifice I put into getting the highest degree. I got to say, screw you Mr. Holtzer to assume I got a chemistry tattoo as a recruitment tool.

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  7. Narcissism defines current culture.

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    1. True, but at this point, oneself seems like the only self to be (potentially) trustworthy. Narcissism is a logical response to a culture where one can't trust anyone else. It is the symptom, not the problem.

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  8. Another person with a fixed mind saying "Haber is evil". It's not even worth trying to answer him.

    About tattoos, I think the title "tattooed “chemistry ambassador” is a poor choice. Secondly, some people in science are still in mid 20th century. I was told (many times) that employers still care if you have a tattoo, beard, earring (for men) etc. Too bad in 2015, people still care how you look instead of what you do and how well you do it.

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    1. It depends what you do - for some things (sales/marketing, perhaps), it matters how other people see you as to how well you can perform. For other things (working in the lab, mostly), what you can do should matter.

      Of course, the "tattoos are bad" is kind a triumph of style over substance as well - as long as everything appears ordered (and in some cases, looks like me), everything is OK, while otherwise, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. While the "broken windows" theory posits that there is some truth to that contention, in most cases, looking ordered and presentable won't substitute well for making something useful.

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    2. It shouldn't depend on what you do. That's the problem. Should we not have professors, sales people, managers with full sleeve tattoos ? Some people write a book or a poem, some people get tattoos to express their feelings. I don't see any difference.

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    3. "Too bad in 2015, people still care how you look instead of what you do and how well you do it."

      Maybe, but really no reason to think humans have fundamentally changed in the past few centuries, much less past few decades.

      That said, I assume the author of above letter used to walk to school and back 5 miles in the snow....uphill both ways!

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  9. Did this guy shake his fist and tell the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn as he wrote that letter? Ooohing and aahing is a starting point. I imagine most scientists have a story about what inspired them to become scientists and it wasn't the prospect of toiling in a sunless lab to make small, esoteric advancements.

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    1. The artwork of someone who doesn't know a bit about chemistry (but was paid for and worn by someone who does) is supposed to magically inspire those who see it to...uh, what exactly?

      a) study hard in school to one day get a non-tenured job like their instructor
      b) get their own nerdy tattoos
      c) roll their eyes at the olds

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    2. Well, my story involved being fascinated by the periodic table and why it was laid out the way it was, and how protons and electrons can make up all these different elements and not crash into each other. I think it started sometime in Grade 9. I also wanted to know how reactions happen and whether there was any pattern to it, or you just had to memorize it. If everyone who liked chemistry in high school had tattoos, I would have stayed away from that shit. Chemistry was my lowest grade and I was much better in physics and math, plus I didn't exactly get along with the type of people who had tattoos back in high school, who also had a large overlap with the rich kids who skipped class to go the woods to smoke weed or do some coke. Not that there was anything wrong with those activities... but it just got in the way of me wanting to learn about how the periodic table worked and what matter was made up of.

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  10. I'm not entirely clear what this posting and the following conversation has to do with the subject of "chemjobs" or "chemjobber". The only possible relevance that I can extract from it is -like it or not- Fritz Haber was not unemployed. Get the point, CJ?

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    1. How dare CJ post something not directly related to your interests, on his own personal blog, where he provides a free service to strangers! I sure hope he GETS the POINT!

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    2. Since when was recruiting young people into the study of chemistry not related to jobs in the field? They are very related.

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    3. Actually, Fritz Haber had to resign as director of the institute. So, at some point he was unemployed too.

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    4. Anon922p, it's too bad you don't like the content of this post. I invite you not to read or comment on posts that you don't want to.


      (And yes, I deleted your last comment because I felt that it was not constructive.) - CJ

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