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Chlorine and Good Manners

This is a statement of personal opinion on the part of the editor. Comments are invited.

As everyone probably knows, Greenpeace has recently been campaigning vigorously for the almost complete abolition of the industrial use of chlorine and its organic compounds; they appear to regard Element 17 as the pariah of the periodic table. In fairness one might call attention to the innumerable lives that have been saved as a result of the chlorination of drinking water, by the use of chlorine-containing drugs like chloroquine, which cured me of malaria once, and for that matter by the destruction of disease-carrying insects by the use of chlorinated pesticides, before it was found necessary to discontinue their use.

However I am not concerned here with the case for or against the use of chlorine and its compounds. What I am concerned with is the generally accepted rules of civility in scientific controversy. Not long ago Greenpeace issued a press release under a title more appropriate for a supermarket tabloid (“Greenpeace exposes government science scandal on pulp mill pollution”) in which they made a personal attack on a highly respected scientist because he does not share their opinion on the environmental significance of chlorinated organic compounds in pulp mill effluents. This does not appear to have injured the scientist involved, but it has certainly injured Greenpeace, at least in my eyes, and I am not the only scientist who feels this way. Would it not be sensible for all of us who are concerned with the protection of the environment to treat each other with respect, however much we may differ on how best to achieve our common goals?

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