Thank you Roald Hoffmann

Nobel Laureate Professor Roald Hoffmann, quantum chemist, poet and playwright, writes of the need for informed citizens.

My reason for setting up this blog is my concern for the quality of democracy.. We need an educated democracy if we are to consider the future for children in a more thoughtful way. To that end, I invite anyone who joins me on this journey to consider, as a point of beginning, these words by Nobel Laureate Professor Roald Hoffmann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, quantum chemist, poet and playwright.

In a collection of essays for students in USA he takes on issues in chemistry related to ‘Value, Harm and Democracy’ in The Same and Not The Same, published by Columbia University Press, New York, 1995. In the light of the behaviour of the kind of politicians we are putting in power, he reminds us, in this final paragraph of Essay 45, ‘Chemistry, Education and Democracy’, of what he expects of chemistry courses in the secondary level. “They must be aimed primarily at the non-science student, as the informed citizen, not towards the professional.” He does not see this approach being a disadvantage to the potential ‘brilliant transformers of matter’.  He needs us to understand what chemists do. And we need to engage with it at a secondary level. Moreover, it might encourage more girls, than it has in the past, to consider further study in this discipline.

In the penultimate paragraph he explains why he is concerned by our ignorance of chemistry. Speaking of democracy, he writes: “But experts do not have the mandate: the people and their representatives do. The people have also a responsibility – they need to learn enough chemistry to be able to resist the seductive words of, yes, chemical experts who can be assembled to support any nefarious activity you please.” [p 228]

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