The Crusading Chemist website has been updated

Oh yes, another one of my back burner projects that has received a bit more attention as of late. See the amateurish poster I made for my The Crusading Chemistscreenplay The Crusading Chemist several years ago? Perhaps only one face in that collage is familiar to most, but you can learn all about the protagonist at, a website which has sat idle ever since college beckoned me. There you will find recent posts about life in Harvey Wiley’s time and news about the latest place my writing about him has been featured. My most devoted readers might enjoy the following excerpt of an essay I wrote for the Indiana Historical Society’s bicentennial book:

 . . . Wiley opposed food adulteration on grounds of honesty, because adulterated products cheat the consumer into spending more than the degraded product is worth and compromise health since corrupting the natural makeup of a food substance can cause gradual damage to consumers’ internal organs.

When speaking to a group of businessmen who were skeptical of making food purity a matter of law, Wiley garnered applause by putting it in capitalist terms: “Is there a man in this audience who would put his hand in his neighbor’s pocket, take a dollar from it and put it in his own pocket?…Is there a man in this audience who would so adulterate, so degrade and so misbrand a package of his goods as to cheat the consumer out of a dollar of his money when he bought that package?…”

No hands went up, and the point was taken. Purity of food would promote prosperity rather than hinder it. . .

You will have to wait until 2016 for Indiana’s bicentennial to read the rest of it. But – although I intended no announcement here – perhaps I might have a book of my own about Harvey Wiley’s crusade published before then.

People always wonder what I’m supposed to do with a degree in history anyway.

A Darwin Day Scientific Treasury

Reading Darwin's booksAnyone who has followed my writings for awhile knows that I have a thing for men of science. I adored Sir Isaac Newton at an early age, I wrote a screenplay about Chief Chemist Harvey Wiley as a teenage girl (I think it needs a second revision), I’ve dissected Charles Darwin’s mind in college, and I interviewed Professor John Lennox a couple of years ago. I’m actually working on a new script that involves a fictional scientist, but that is a story for another day.

American President Abraham Lincoln and British naturalist Charles Darwin would have both turned 204 today. As of late, I’ve seen more Americans obsessing over Darwin. Some Democrats in Congress wanted to officially designate February 12th, 2013 as “Darwin Day” to recognize “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.” (Hmmm, as long as science has a moral check and balance, if they had the nerve to specify…)

Since I never want my academic work to go to waste, I’ve recycled some papers that readers might enjoy.


Written for an English literature class in 2010, this essay of mine dissects the rhetorical strategies of Darwin.


Written last year for a history class on Victorian England, this term paper of mine investigates the factors behind the acceptance of Darwinism.


“Together with Marx’s materialistic theory of history and society and Freud’s attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin’s theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism – of much of science, in short – that has been the stage of most Western thought.”
– Douglas Futuyma

Armin Cifuentes/Ronald Martinez (Getty Images)


Does Darwin rule the electorate? Why does a stigma surround those who are skeptical of Darwinism, and how should candidates respond?

Jan Ingenhousz

Jan Ingenhousz, Dutch physician (1730-1799)

“We might conceive a little more of the deep designs of the Supreme Wisdom in the different arrangement of sublunary beings. The stubborn atheist would, perhaps, find reason to humiliate himself before that Almighty Being, whose existence he denies because his limited senses represent to him nothing but a confused chaos of miseries and disorders in this world.” – Jan Ingenhousz, in a piece of writing I discovered in the antique book, The Beginnings of Modern Science: Scientific Writings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries.

Dr. Wiley would not approve: BP’s Corexit mythology

Harvey Wiley in his lab; heart shaped oil glob at Gulf Shores, AL (courtesy Rachel Read)

Harvey Wiley in his lab; heart shaped oil glob at Gulf Shores, AL (courtesy Rachel Read)

What part of “acute health hazard” does BP not understand? History shows why government approval doesn’t mean much.

This month Orange Beach, Ala., resident Margaret Long discovered residue of BP’s dispersant of choice – Corexit – floating by her house on Cotton Bayou. The uncomfortable proximity of toxic dispersant is not a surprise to those of us living in Gulf states.

Two months ago, I strolled along the Gulf Shores, Ala., beach to find a long, snaky boom floating across the surf and “BP mobiles” (as we dubbed them) scuttling about, scraping petroleum residue off the white sand. While examining the boom, I stepped on a sticky tar ball. Along with other beachgoers, I had to stand in line near the hose and bucket labeled “Tar Wash” to scrub the stubborn substance off my bare feet. One man present told me about a friend of his having asthmatic attacks during a beach visit. “From the petroleum in the air?” I asked. He seemed to both nod and shrug at once. The air did have a faint tarlike odor.

But, ironically, the petroleum substance causing allergic reactions probably didn’t spill out of the depths of the Gulf.

The petroleum-based dispersant employed by BP in cleaning up the worst environmental disaster on record actually may be an agent of disaster in itself.  Corexit is fast becoming an infamous name, with the toxicity of its makeup being more than suspicious. The same brand of dispersant was used during cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill more than 20 years ago, and the average lifespan of every cleanup member exposed to it is 51 years. Nearly all of those crew members are now dead.

None of this matters to a panicking oil company, of course. Corexit is government approved.

But government approval isn’t genuinely worth much and hasn’t been for quite a while.  To figure that out, simply follow the story of Harvey Wiley (1844-1930), chief of the Bureau of Chemistry (a precursor to the FDA). He also happens to be the star of the screenplay mentioned in my silly little bio. During the Teddy Roosevelt administration, Wiley managed to bring the hazardous adulterations in the food and drug industries to the attention of Congress. After years of researching the effects of preservatives and additives used by many manufacturers, Wiley helped write the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

The law was barely enacted before a convoluted legal battle took place that manipulated the definitions of the act for the dissenting manufacturers’ benefit. The Pure Food and Drug Law was far too popular nationwide to overturn, so the companies that were sloppy in their practices managed to find scientists who produced data that made their crimes look less heinous. Their allies in Congress subsequently amended the law to suite their tastes. The result was power vested in a new board of unscrupulous scientists instead of the Bureau of Chemistry. All the substances that Wiley predicted would insidiously cause disease – from sodium benzoate to saccharin – were “government approved,” and the American public has been consuming them (plus more) for more than a century.

Thus, BP’s Corexit splurge is certainly not the first time that long-term health and safety has been sacrificed for short-term profit.

We could possibly cut the instigators at BP a little slack if no other cleanup option existed. But, in reality, there are plenty of effective, less toxic and natural methods available, such as that offered by OSEI. Corexit is actually known to be less effective than some of the other options. Furthermore, we have even more vivid historical and scientific evidence of its harmfulness than Wiley ever could have acquired about toxic preservatives through his Poison Squad: We have the chilling aftermath of the Exxon Valdez cleanup to observe!

But money speaks louder than evidence to ticklish ears.

Nalco, the synthetics company that makes Corexit, has Rodney F. Chase among its board of directors. Before coming to Nalco, Chase worked at BP for 38 years. That leaves much financial expediency to the imagination. Furthermore, BP obviously wants to dump into the sea whatever it takes to make the oil “disappear” quickly and easily, and, thus, help keep its fines low and reputation high. The dissenting manufacturers in Wiley’s day wanted to dump into their sub-par products whatever it took to make them look fresh and nutritious and, thus, keep their profits and reputation high. Both schemes have been scorned by the American public – we the people who end up suffering the consequences.

The primary purpose of our nation’s government is to protect its people. Wiley insisted that, for the safety of the American people, the Bureau of Chemistry ought to abide by the standard that no substances are to be released to the public until first proved harmless. The Food and Drug Administration standard of today seems to have eroded to allow anything on the market until it is proved harmful.  Based on the dispersants given the green light, the Environmental Protection Agency seems no different.  I have to add here that the FDA seems to have jumped onto the Corexit bandwagon, even arguing back in May:

“As part of FDA’s effort to monitor the development of this crisis and its potential impact on the safety of seafood harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, this is an assessment of the potential toxic human health impact of the chemical dispersants as per their potential to adversely impact seafood…Though early dispersants contained agents highly toxic to marine life, manufacturers have refined formulations of more recent generations of dispersants to dramatically reduce toxicity…In conclusion, the available information indicates that dispersants have little or no effect on the bioaccumulation potential of oil contaminants, nor do they themselves accumulate in seafood.”

That argument sounds eerily similar to arguments with which Wiley was faced.  I don’t mean to make you ill, but that’s coming from the same department that approves the food and medicine on your shelves.

While researching for and writing The Crusading Chemist (which I hope to revise again), one of the historical threads I discovered and worked to incorporate into the script is the tension between government and science. Government, in this sense, can refer to the political operations of a country or company, and, by nature, it desires some sort of stable, unchanging system to rule. Science, however, is a tentative medium. In politics, tentative equals manipulative.

At the beginning of this month, federal scientists were unabashedly announcing that most of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was gone. In other words, “Look, our strategy is working! The dispersant is busting up the oil – who cares if it’s busting red blood cells too?”

But soon scientists in Georgia called attention to evidence that perhaps 80 percent of the spilled oil remains, merely drifting deep beneath the surface of the sea. That’s what Corexit does — mess with the oil’s molecular structure so that it sinks rather than floats. The oil spill is being swept under the rug, not cleaned up.

Reflect for a moment on the origin of this disaster. It wasn’t oil or offshore drilling alone that contributed to it.  These industries offer a great deal to our economy and should not be naively considered to only equal bizarre disaster.  Rather, notice that it was the preposterous notion of drilling in dangerously deep water that initiated the fiasco.

Meanwhile, 19 million acres of flat, empty, essentially barren land brimming with oil are sitting atop Alaska: ANWR. As Greta Van Susteren discovered while touring the enormous state with Todd and Sarah Palin, many misconceptions about ANWR exist because of misleading agendas. So, while BP is shooting itself (and the coast – and ocean life) in the foot way out at sea, there is untapped potential way out in no-man’s land that could be utilized in far safer ways.

The ruthless antics of British Petroleum are not signs of a capitalist problem or whatever-ideology-is-politically-expedient-to-attack problem. They are rooted in the human problem of careless ambition. As sources of order and information, both government and science are powerful tools. But, as human institutions, both are only a human ego away from imploding.

Powerful men can’t stand to be proved wrong.

Read more of Amanda’s column Not Your Average Read in the Communities at The Washington Times

“You Presume Everything, Professor”

Louis Agassiz

"The sad confession which every true scientific man learns to make is, 'I am ignorant; I want to learn'" - Louis Agassiz

The history of science is one of my primary interests.  What constitutes science, how scientific opinion and data has changed or appeared, and what sort of influence the whole field of science has on culture, as well as vice versa.  Despite all its glory, science is, after all, a very narrow vacuum of understanding when viewed in a historical context.  It can only tell us so much, and when the majority of society places upon it burdens and responsibilities it cannot live up to, distortion is inevitable.

Hmm, perhaps a chiseling of definitions is in order.  After all, science can apply to different things when used in a general context (i.e., historical science).  In the comments on my last article, a debate erupted over whether or not Creation and Evolution are falsifiable and therefore “real science.”  I tried to explain that Creation and Evolution are scientific worldviews whose sub-hypotheses constitute predictions, which are falsifiable, which thus constitute “real science.”  After thinking things through for awhile and looking things up, I realized why there was so much confusion over what is true science.

Empirical science, technically, is true science.  Empirical science is a system of study which deals with observable and repeatable – and therefore testable or experimental – evidence.  I suppose we could call it the “useful science,” because it is from empirical science that we get medical advancements.  Sounds like the sort of material that should be able to solve all the world’s problems, right?  Before you place your faith in it, consider this:

“These evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible. It is as impossible to turn a land vertebrate into a fish as it is to effect the reverse transformation. The applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human experimenter. And yet, it is just such impossibility that is demanded by anti-evolutionists when they ask for ‘proofs’ of evolution which they would magnanimously accept as satisfactory.”

– Theodosius Dobzhansky, geneticist and evolutionary biologist

“Our theory of evolution has become, as Popper described, one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus ‘outside of empirical science‘ but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training.”

– Paul Ehrlich, evolutionary biologist

Thus, the scientific worldviews of Creation and Evolution are not empirical science.  Microevolution, or change within a genome, is within the realm of empirical science, because we observe it all the time.  Macroevolution, on the other hand, is not within the realm of empirical science.  The evolutionary explanation is often just “it happens so slowly that we can’t observe it.”  Thus, there needs to be convincing historical evidence for it (such as in the realm of paleontology).   The Great Flood recorded in the Bible is, for us, an unobservable, unrepeatable event.  It is comically absurd for someone to mix up a bunch of dirt in a fish tank with some water and presume that the results from that “experiment” verify or invalidate the occurrence of a kataklysmos in the earth’s past.  If it wasn’t technically even a flood, but rather an unfathomable disaster of epic proportions that is never supposed to occur again, then it can only be studied through historical, archaeological and paleontological evidence (and hey, if you’re going to accept Archeopteryx as evidence of macroevolution, then the presence of bivalves on the tops of mountains is certainly evidence of a global flood-like disaster!).  The original Creation of life is, for us, an unobservable, unrepeatable event (which is why it is outside the realm of empirical science).  We do, however, see procreation and human abilities to design and create complex things, and we see that nothing comes from nothing.  Totally spontaneous generation from nonliving matter with no outside influence would be the only solid evidence against the scientific worldview of Creation.

In the long run, then, arguing over whether or not the scientific worldviews of Creation and Evolution are falsifiable is pointless.  Their validity depends upon MUCH more than the realm of empirical science.  So, why does anyone call Evolution indisputable fact?  Why such offense at anyone who questions Evolution?  I get the impression that skeptics gravitate toward science because they have a human desire for security, for belief in something steadfast.  From what I’ve learned, science is too tentative for such gratification.

For  your amusement, here is a scene from a screenplay about the life of a famous scientist (setting: late 19th century):


In the large dining room, all a-glow with sophistication,
the dignified DR. JAMESON and charming MRS. JAMESON

Allow me to take a moment to give our guest of honor a formal
introduction – Welcome Professor Edward S. Morse.

The guests offer a gentle applause.

His accomplishments ought to serve as an inspiration to us all –
though few of us have his ambidextrous talent.

Oh, but that was almost my undoing. I got nothing out of the classroom – albeit myself -because I couldn’t quit carving pictures in the desks.


Draw us something, why not?

She hands him paper and pen.

A portrait is what you’re
expecting, I presume?

You presume awfully quickly,
Professor. Do you wish to prove your hand at portraiture? I don’t mind – you’re the artist.

As well as a scientist. How did
you ever learn to focus on
something as scholarly as

(alternating hands while
When you are able to keep your mind open to new knowledge constantly there isn’t as much boredom. Science came naturally.

You even made your way into Harvard.

I was fortunate to become the student assistant of Professor Louis Agassiz at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Agassiz, he – he was undoubtedly a truly scientific
man, yet I left him over a disagreement. I am not dependent solely on the views of other
eminent scientists. If any of you can understand – surely it would
have been nonsense to my status in the field of science if I remained allied with someone that eventually opposed true science.

There is a brief silence as the listeners ponder what he
just said. Finally MRS. JAMESON speaks up with curiosity.

I’m no scientist, but I know a thing or two about common logic. Professor Morse, how can a truly
scientific man possibly oppose true science?

Well, now the science I referred
to is Evolution. It has been presented by Darwin and endorsed
by a great many in the scientific society.

“Presented”? “Endorsed”?
“Society”? Forgive me, but you make this “true science” sound like just a trend.

Darling, that statement of yours sounded ruthlessly frivolous.

I am absolutely intrigued! Explain to me, young Mr. Wiley,
why you are intrigued by science – or what is science, for that

Any student of medicine can be presented with “cures” for the various ailments that afflict
mankind, but few answers as to the roots of both health and disease. Science is a tool that
is used to unearth answers to the workings of the natural world, and I am intrigued as to why no one puts more emphasis on objectivity in the field of
medicine. I am hoping that by delving into science I will see
honest answers.

I am glad to see science so regarded by a student of
medicine, Mr. Wiley. But I would hardly say that “trend” is the
right word, Mrs. Jameson. A scientific theory should gain
more respect than that.

How much theoretical persistence
may be respected when truth is on the line? Something as
influential as science must demand accuracy.

As well as not have its advancements hindered. Perhaps
the greatest age in science is yet to come – and surely there
are more discoveries to be made. My job is not to fret over the
currently indeterminable. It is to have my mind open to evidence.

Advancements – do you think that advancements in science will improve the trials and afflictions of humanity?

Why would progress not bring

Would those who ignore such
advancements be considered primitive?

I suppose so.

When I studied as a medical apprentice, Dr. Hampton and I
encountered many poor country folk. They were distant from
improved society and lived off their homesteads – isolated from
culture, you might say. Yet they were healthier and more resilient
than most of those living in more advanced communities that I have
witnessed. What explanation is there for that?

pondering stares. MRS. JAMESON responds with sarcasm…

Shame on you, Harvey Wiley, for daring to question a doctor and a
scientist on something that neither can answer!

Well now, Wiley, all the medicine
in the world will not provide you with all the answers. Maybe a few
cures to problems, but not many answers as to their existence. I
really don’t know what else to tell you. Maybe nutrition and so
forth has something to do with it.

Nutrition? Then it is evident that medicine has not dealt with
that scientifically. Either that or science is actually
experiencing a decline as it increases in public interest.

I would presume it to lie with the former.

You presume everything, Professor.

What if you – young Mr. Wiley – and I decided to make a bet against these scientific
individuals? A bet that they are never quite certain as to what is
merely presumable and what is fact.

Now, Mrs. Jameson, you know how dangerous it is to gamble with
the elite. I was under the impression that it is their job to challenge us.

The ideas are challenging, as every idea presumes something.

I think that they want to see science confirm something to be true or false, Professor Morse.

Science is quite tentative.

Oh, I see. Just as long as I don’t resemble an ape in my portrait.

The room fills with laughter that gradually fades away to
the next scene.


A Revision Is Underway!

I finally heard from my manager on Thursday. Four script readers provided critiquing (called “coverage”) of The Crusading Chemist and explained how it needs to be revised before they can represent it. I confirmed the contract, which states that they will receive a 15% commission of the sales price if they find a buyer for the screenplay.

What I loved about their analysis is that they were completely objective – they had no idea who I was (at least one of them thought I was a man…haha…) and had never heard of the story before. While they each had unique opinions, they all agreed that the script needs to be shortened – with less of the long biographical beginning and more focus on the heart of the story – and that the characters’ emotions and personalities need some more depth. Here are excerpts from their comments (I didn’t get to edit some of the typos):

“A major issue throughout was lack of conflict. I believe the writer possess a strong and professional ability, which is obvious within format and dialogue, however the story truly suffers throughout due to lack of conflict.
Additionally there is little to no romance involved. A female interest isn’t even introduced until page 42. Even when the characters become close, there is no development of their relationship…”

“Extremely well written dialogue. It is a very difficult thing to write a period piece and make the dialogue believable. I thought the writer achieved this feat remarkably. It was very intelligent and complex.
There is a particular character in the very beginning that I really enjoyed. DR. JOHN W. SCOTT speaks with a very philosophical and humors tone that I really enjoyed. At times however I do believe because of the very intellectual speech there were many times that I believed the dialogue to be drawn out and unnecessary. “

“The script suffers from far too many scenes where characters talk about the problem of additives and unpure [sic] drugs but beyond the talk, little action takes place.”

“This story is non-fiction, so I’m assuming, if the writer has done his research, which it seems that he has, most of if not all of the characters appear to be real people. My thinking therefore is that the writer was to concerned with detailing an accurate depiction of HARVEY’s life, including every single person that he ever came into contact with, and not enough time on focusing on the characters that truly mattered. “

“I believe the writer possess extremely talented abilities overall. The script was very professional few to no format or grammatical errors, and it is clear that the writer has an informative understanding of the story.”

“I will however reiterate the need for conflict and establishing character relationships. I want to see more emotion in this story. Where’s the love, friendship, anger, etc? As it stands right now, most of the characters a very bland and uninteresting. Again I believe a lot of this has to do with the writer staying a true to actual events and characters as told in real life. However sometimes for the sake of film we must embellish on reality. In some way the heart of this story needs to be brought out, and it just can’t be through exposition and plot alone.”

“The writer sets up scenes for good conflict, yet lets these situations go without any dramatic climax. The main character could be much more pro-active, could have more reactions toward his obstacles that would reveal more about his character. There aren’t a lot of revealing moments for him. Some moments of dialogue stand out as unique and insightful. On page 17, Louis Agassiz has an interesting shpeal about Harvard. The script would benefit from more of these moments in which the audience feels intrigued by these quirky professors.”

“The story gets rolling far too late in the script. The juiciest part of the script, in which Harvey wishes to pass this bill, but can’t, and then subsequently reaps no benefits of his labor after it is passed, comes much too late in the story. Adding more conflict to his earlier goals (getting permission from his father to go to school, learning under the professor of his choice) will also keep the audience’s attention…”

“The author has obviously spend hours researching the period in which the story takes place as well as all the chemical reasons and legal ramifications that are explained in the story.”

“Harvey Wiley played an important part in United States history and this script is a window to allow people today to look at his contribution to food and drugs. Overall, the window is too wide, however, to sustain interest or allow an audience to feel that they are inside the man and can relate to his struggles.”

“I loved the scene where the performer is singing while we see Wiley’s experiment is being set up. More devices like this should be used. Also, the dialogue is not distinct enough, between characters. Vivian Mallory is a prime example of a character in this script that is fully visualized. I get the sense that she is a stereotypical social butterfly and a bit flighty. That’s awesome. Unfortunately, the other characters come across a bit bland.”

“As well written as this was, a major issue was with establishing seemingly influential and major characters and then never hearing from them ever again. This became more and more frustrating as it continues to happen throughout the entire story. There are many great characters that are introduced that I wanted to see more of. I lost count of how many characters were introduced on one page and by the next their existence it was ancient history. “

“The script could be improved if, instead of beginning to describe his life from his college years onward, the time span was focused only on those years where the maximum controversy over the act occurred. That would also limit the number of characters and dialogue.”

Scenes that work well: The scene where Dr. Wiley resigns after being accused of writing a bicycle, the scenes when Wiley is with Anna; these give a peek that the “inner” man is not all scientist.

“I liked the concept of “The Crusading Chemist” alot. It tells a part of US history that is not well known and should be. Bio pics are hard to do because the right balance must be struck between getting everything in there and not having the script lull or drag on in places.”

“This script is ambitious in its scope and, while that is admirable, it’s causing too much to be going on and the writer has relied too much on dialogue to get the story across. As, I have mentioned, there were some shining points, but the script needs to be focused and cut down. After it is revised, I think this script could be a much needed spot light on a part of our history that has remained the dark for too long.”

I appreciate their candid critiquing and am developing some ideas for a revision.  I’m looking forward to working with them on it.  One thing I found interesting is that one of the readers said that Vivian Mallory was the best example of a fully visualized character…and to think that Vivian is a completely fictional character out of my imagination!  That illustrates an interesting point to me: if I happened to be writing a completely fictional, imaginative story of my own, it would probably satisfy them because I would take full control over the characters and really make them my own.  But since this is a history, I’ve been a bit hesitant about that.  They seemed to agree that my primary weakness is attempting to be too detailed and accurate.

The reason why I wasn’t able to get very romantic is a two fold challenge: first of all, there was a point in the story in which Harvey and Anna barely saw each other for 10 years and secondly, their personal correspondence is hidden away in the depths of the Library of Congress which I have not yet been able to access.  Hmm…there is only so much I can comfortably imagine, especially when I consider that their real life historical romance was probably far better than I can fictionalize.

Well, do you agree with their comments?  You are welcome to read the first edition of the script yourself and share some comments!