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January 11, 2010
Volume 88, Number 2
p. 4

January 11, 2010 Letters

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Chemical Safety: Sodium Azide Hazards

Robert Seibert's letter contains an interesting account of an explosion that involved sodium azide (NaN3) in the late 1940s (C&EN, Nov. 9, 2009, page 8). Following the dreadful accident, Seibert remembers remarking that the explosion must have been caused by wet methanol and warns about the dangers of adding sodium azide to wet methanol.

Because no further details about the contents of the reactor are given, there is nothing I can say about it but to clarify that NaN3 does not form explosive compounds when dissolved in water. Besides its toxicity, the danger associated with NaN3 is its ability to form explosive azides when reacted with heavy metals such as lead, copper, zinc, cadmium, or nickel.

Cesar Aliaga
Albany, Calif.

Why Boycott Israel?

David Mendenhall defends the academic boycott of Israel (C&EN Sept. 21, 2009, page 3), which was denounced as bigoted in an earlier letter (C&EN, April 27, 2009, page 2). Mendenhall made two arguments against the notion that the boycott is bigoted: It "has widespread support in Britain and other European countries," and the activists he knows who support the boycott "are mostly Jewish."

I don't see how these arguments prove the nonbigoted nature of the boycott. Mendenhall seems to be contending that British and European academics, and Jews in general, are inherently tolerant of Jews and thus any activity they are involved in cannot be anti-Semitic or bigoted. One only wishes this were true. Anti-Semitism exists among a subset of British and European academics, and there are as many self-hating Jews as there are homophobic gay people; that is to say, not a lot, but some.

Mendenhall gives as an example of Israeli academic prejudice Haifa's new private college, the Carmel Academic Center, which closed its accounting academic major one week before classes started, allegedly because too many Arabs were registered. Let's put aside the fact that this is a brand-new college, just opening its doors, and a privately supported for-profit institution as well. Let's also put aside the "official" explanation that the major was canceled due to "financial considerations"; that is, not enough of the accounting students were paying tuition.

Even if one accepts that this brand-new, small private institution canceled a new major with racist intent, is this reason to support an academic boycott against every single academic institution in the country and all of the scientists who work in these institutions?

Regarding academic boycotts, I would say if you abhor the science that a certain researcher is doing, by all means, refuse to collaborate with him or her. If you disagree with the national policies of a certain government, by all means, write letters and encourage your government to withdraw foreign aid. But if you refuse to work with a fellow scientist because you abhor the policies of his or her government, I'm sorry. To me that does smack of bigotry.

Todd P. Silverstein
Salem, Ore.

Mendenhall argues that scientists should support an academic boycott of Israel. His thinking is warped.

Israel is not an apartheid state. That term has been selected by Palestinian propagandists as the way to delegitimize Israel and its existence. More than 1 million Arabs currently live in Israel, within the pre-1967 borders. But Palestine would be an apartheid state, once established. All Jews living in 1948 in what is now referred to as "Arab East Jerusalem" were forced to leave once the area was taken by Jordan; Palestinians refuse to allow any Jews to live in what they regard as "Palestinian lands."

An academic boycott is totally unwarranted, and 190 signatures, including many students', is not enough to show anything.

Joel Ackerman
Richmond, Calif.

Insulting Generalization

I have an aversion to the following sentence, which appeared in an article titled, "DuPont Accuses Scientist of Theft": "Chinese students tend to have stronger allegiances to their alma maters than to the companies they work for" (C&EN, Sept. 28, 2009, page 47). This is a very serious charge to make because it attacks the morality of all Chinese students.

I don't deny that this statement might apply to some Chinese students, but definitely not to all. Plus, the same can be said of some students from other countries, even from the U.S. How could the author come to such a general conclusion or statement without any objective source? Or did this just come from the top of his head? Has he any survey or study to prove it? If there is support for this statement, it should have been provided in the article. If the statement is a personal opinion or impression, please say so clearly and do not imply that it is a generally accepted truth.

James Wang
Berkeley, Calif.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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