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July 7, 2008
Volume 86, Number 27
p. 88

Golf Carts gone bad, Chemistry Is No Laughing Matter

Golf Carts gone bad

Image Title Dreamstime
Deathtrap: Notice the lack of seatbelts ... and doors.

In the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from Ohio State University reported that GOLF CART INJURIES have risen 132% between 1990 and 2006. These are some research findings that I have personal experience with.

Misuse of the vehicles appears to be responsible for this dramatic increase. Golf carts are meant to be driven on, well, golf courses, but they are increasingly being used at sporting events, college campuses, and, in my case, a friend's backyard.

Amazingly, even though the carts can reach speeds of 25 mph and travel for more than 40 miles on a single charge of the battery, most golf carts aren't federally regulated. A call to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration revealed that you do not need a driver's license to operate a golf cart in the state.

Good to know, because at age 12—long before I could legally drive in my home state of Maryland—my precocious schoolmate Carrie bought herself a used golf cart and thought it would be a genius idea to let me drive it. I floored the tiny metal pedal, lost control of the steering, careened through a flower bed, and slammed into the side of her parents' garage. Thankfully, Carrie and I emerged from the wreck with only a few bruises.

Those named in the AJPM study, however, weren't as lucky. About 50% of the injuries were sprains, strains, or bruises; about 25% were fractures; and the rest were cuts.

Chemistry Is No Laughing Matter

Sometimes chemists can be too smart for their own good. Earlier this spring, the New York Times published Pamela Paul's book review of "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex," by Mary Roach.

Modified from the New York Times
View Enlarged Image
Spelling test: There's more to this structure than just bad chemistry.

Roach, an off-color science writer, likes to take taboo topics and make them entertaining. In "Bonk," she gets down and dirty by taking readers behind the scenes of sex research, even going as far as observing artificial insemination at a Danish pig farm.

Considering the book title, the Times included a CHEMICAL ILLUSTRATION to accompany the review. Evidently, from the letters to the editor that the Times received in response to the image, the structure furrowed more eyebrows than the review itself.

Case in point, the following letter to the editor was published in the Times a few weeks after the structure ran:

"To the editor:

The figure accompanying the review of 'Bonk' made me cringe. I'm not sure what its use is, other than to give the article a 'scientific' feel. It is the chemical equivalent of stringing together a bunch of English words in some random order. Sure, it may look like a paragraph to someone who doesn't speak English, but for those who do, it is nothing short of atrocious. Please, in the future, have someone with at least a semester of undergraduate chemistry take a look at such figures—any of my students would be able to identify at least two dozen errors in this figure."

We'll withhold the individual's name, but the Times indicated it was written by a male graduate student in the chemistry department at the University of California, Davis.

The letter writer is completely correct; the structure the Times ran is chemical nonsense. What the student failed to get, however, was the joke.

As the Times revealed under the printed letters of criticism, the molecular structure wasn't intended to represent anything other than the certain three-letter-word it spells out. Hint: It begins with s and ends in x. It just proves the old adage: You can take the nerd out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the nerd.

This week's column was written by Faith Hayden. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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