The War On Science Students

When I received a petition for the dropping of charges against Kiera Wilmot my first instinct was that to check snopes. Surely, even in America, this could not be true. But it seems it is, or at least relatively reliable media outlets are reporting the story.

Wilmot, student with an apparently exemplary record, conducted a common science experiment on the grounds of her school. Her behaviour, as reported, is indicative that this was what she was doing, rather than trying to scare, let alone harm, anyone. The experiment, which involves mixing toilet cleaner and aluminium foil creates a small explosion. In this case she popped the top off the bottle and produced some smoke. For this she has been expelled from school and is facing felony charges.

Did I mention that this is Florida? Or that Wilmot is black? No doubt it would have been different if she’d decided to carry out some target practise with her gun. Remember this is a state where it is illegal to ban guns in any public place, such that scissors could be banned from the Republican Convention, but handguns could not.

It’s easy to laugh at the Floridiots, but there is something serious here. Well two serious things – one is the damage that could be done to this girl’s life. But the wider one is the effort to repress interest in science. I want kids to blow the tops off bottles. I want them to do it safely, but I want them to be sufficiently interested in the way the world works that they think mixing toilet cleaner and aluminium (even if they insist on calling it aluminum) foil. I’ve stood in front of thousands of students and blown the tops of tins using liquid nitrogen. I wore goggles and I made sure the kids were at a safe distance, but it was part of the job of inspiring them, showing them that science was more fun than the just so stories.

I can’t help wondering if the urge to kill that wonder is part of the reason Wilmot has to complete her schooling under an expelled program and is facing criminal charges that could interfere with her career prospects and maybe even stop her ever voting.

For Darwin’s sake, sign the petition. And share the video.


About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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