Blogroll: Reducing reductionism

[As mentioned in this post, we’re posting the monthly blogroll column here on the Sceptical Chymist. This is April’s article – with the original title that was too long for print.]

A statistical look at the chemistry job market and nailing down the indefinable differences between chemistry and physics.

LabMonkey4Hire is a recent addition to the chemical blogosphere, with an aim to dissect and discuss the chemistry job market in the UK. LabMonkey freely admits to being “heavily inspired” by ChemJobber, who does the same in the USA. As well as weekly surveys of job sites, LabMonkey has offered some interesting posts, including a three-part series looking at ‘What do chemistry graduates do?’. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2006–2009 reveals that as many graduates go into further study or training as enter employment (39%). But that hasn’t always been the case: more detail reveals that the number entering employment dropped from 45% over the four years, while the proportion taking a higher degree rose from 26% to 30%. Most worrying of all, the levels ‘believed to be unemployed’ went from 6% to 9%, and those working as ‘retail, catering, waiting or bar staff’ shot up to 13%.

Curious Wavefunction, meanwhile, continues to fight on chemistry’s behalf, revisiting ‘The difference between chemistry and physics’ with inspiration from Roald Hoffmann’s book The Same and Not the Same. Wavefunction uses the example of the carbonyl functional group, “a workhorse of chemistry”. Physics would explain its use in nucleophilic addition by a reduction to electrostatics, but chemists consider the angle of the attack, steric effects, reactivity and stereochemistry. So a completely reductionist approach fails, not because there is no connection between chemistry knowledge and the underlying physics, but “because the physics-based explanations tend to be useless at the level of chemistry”.

And finally…Azmanam on the ChemistryBlog showed off his Wolfram Alpha “reagent table widget” that tells you useful physical properties of your favourite reagents.