Public Participation in Technology


Excerpts are taken from…

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

By Neil de Grasses Tyson (2007)



…in 1897, the lower house of the Indiana State Legislature passed a bill announcing that, henceforth in the Hoosier state, “the ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four”—in other words, exactly 3.2.  (p. 113)

(That is, pi was defined to be 3.2 by legal decree.)



A now-famous science fair experiment that tested the antitechnology sentiments and associated chemical-phobia was conducted in 1997 by Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho.  He invited people to sigh a petition that demanded either strict control of, or a total ban on, dihydrogen monoxide.  He listed some of the odious properties of this colorless and odorless substance:


·       It is a major component in acid rain

·       It eventually dissolves almost anything it comes in contact with

·       It can kill if accidentally inhaled

·       It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients


Forty-three out of 50 people approached by Zohner signed the petition, six were undecided, and one was a great supporter of dihydrogen monoxide and refused to sign.  Yes, 86 percent or the passersby voted to ban water (H2O) from the environment. (p. 220)


(The dates are embolden to emphasize that the events occurred a century apart.)