Senator Blumenthal Blames TikTok... Due To A Popular And Widely Championed Science Experiment Gone Wrong

from the why-do-you-hate-science? dept

Senator Richard Blumenthal seems to fill our pages with every possible moral panic about an internet he doesn't understand, but on which he's made a name over-reacting to. This goes back over a decade, honestly, since well before he was even a Senator.

For the last few months he's been really ramping up the moral panic about TikTok, complaining about various trends on TikTok and demanding execs testify before him. The latest is that he has sent a letter to TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, demanding an explanation of how a kid in Connecticut (Blumenthal's state) was burned by messing up a science experiment called the "Whoosh Bottle Experiment." Lots of news sites -- and Blumenthal in his letter -- imply that "The Whoosh Bottle Experiment" is some sort of TikTok thing.

I write to express my grave concerns over TikTok’s failure to ensure the safety of the users on its platform. Time and again, TikTok users—including children—are seriously injured attempting to emulate videos they watch. TikTok must do better to enforce its own community guidelines and promote the safety and best interests of all users on its platform.

Last week, a twelve-year-old boy in East Haven, Connecticut, was hospitalized after suffering severe burns. He had watched a video on TikTok of the “Whoosh Bottle Experiment,” where alcohol is poured in a plastic bottle set aflame to hear a “whoosh” sound as the alcohol burns off. Because alcohol is highly flammable, its mishandling can inflict serious injury and lead to devastating consequences. TikTok knows of this danger: multiple people were injured in a previous trend to draw shapes in rubbing alcohol and ignite them.

Thing is, the Whoosh Bottle Experiment is not "a TikTok thing" it's a science thing. It's listed as a useful science experiment/demonstration for students on tons of educational resources, including the Royal Society of Chemistry, ChemEdX, STEM Learning and many, many other respected educational resources. Atlas Obscura referred to it years ago as "science's coolest fire experiment," noting dozens of science teachers doing demonstrations of the Whoosh Bottle Experiment.

Now, yes, this is the kind of experiment that should involve adult supervision, but it's not just some dumb random "TikTok challenge" and it's ridiculous to somehow hold TikTok to blame here. There are tons of science experiments that, if done wrong, could lead to injury. Is Senator Blumenthal really saying that all such educational resources teaching such science experiments need to be taken offline?

This kind of grandstanding seems to get Blumenthal headlines, which is what he seems to care about most. And the media seems to be eating up the false claim that the Whoosh Bottle Experiment is somehow "a TikTok thing." But it's not. It's a science thing and it's utterly ridiculous that Blumenthal is blaming TikTok for that -- and that the media is aiding him in this stupid, stupid moral panic. Stick to misunderstanding "finsta," Senator. You don't need to attack cool science experiments too.

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Filed Under: blame, education, liability, richard blumenthal, science experiments, stem, whoosh bottle experiment
Companies: tiktok


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  1. identicon
    David, 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:04am

    To be fair:

    It's become an accepted strategy that you can repatent anything by adding the clause "with a computer" to it. So why not reignite any old stupidity by adding "on the Internet" to it?

    It just takes adding some mumbo-jumbo that patent clerks or the general public has no clue about in order to warm up some cold nonsense.

    And if "on the Internet" is already well-known to clerks/hoipolloi, then "on Tiktok" is certainly going to be much more ominous.

    We need your votes to stop child terrorist trading. On Tiktok. How does that sound to you? If it sounds ridiculous to you, you are likely not part of a critical majority that can be outraged into voting for people who might or might not be as clueless as their political proposals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:05am

    People who understand science tend to understand reason and facts - anathema to a politician, so no wonder he'd want it stopped.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Annonymouse, 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:08am

    Whoosh

    Can we get him taken off the internet?

    My local station made mention of this latest episode of dumb in their international interest section with all due derision. They may have even beaten Colbert to the punch on this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:33am

    Re: Whoosh

    Can we get him taken off the internet?

    Wouldn't a better idea be to have someone to teach him how to do initial research using a search engine. I suspect however they would have to start by teaching him that pressing a key with a letter on it puts that letter on screen,

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    TaboToka (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:36am

    Re: To be fair:

    So why not reignite any old stupidity by adding "on the Internet" to it?

    If the 'issue' is reignited by specifying the platform it is on, doesn't that mean the platform is not the issue?

    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it on TikTok
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it on YouTube
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it on Insta
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it on cable tv
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it in a book
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids see it demonstrated in school
    • The Whoosh Bottle challenge is bad because kids are stupid and need supervision

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:43am

    and parents were where?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Eric, 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:12am

    I write...

    I write to express my grave concerns over the US Government's failure to ensure the safety of its citizens. Time and again, US citizens—including children—are seriously injured due to other stupid US citizens. The US government must do better to enforce its own community guidelines and promote the safety and best interests of all citizens residing in its country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    MathFox, 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:16am

    Parents

    Parents were trying to repeat the whoosh experiment by checking the fuel level in the gas tank of their car with a lighted match.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:32am

    If only there were adults that were responsible for this poor stupid child rather than expecting a corporation to raise him.

    Child neglect... it is a thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:37am

    My freshman year in high school, my Earth Science teacher did this experiment for the class on the first day using an empty water cooler jug. The trick is to swirl the isopropyl around in the jug to give the sides a good coating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:47am

    Just wait until he hears about YouTube.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:05pm

    Re: To be fair:

    It's the usual story - politicians need issues to grandstand on and look like they're "doing something". Media get more hits by writing stories that make something sound "new" rather than just the same old stuff. The target audience for both are people who want to blame everything wrong with the world and things that are new and scary (read: anything that wasn't around when they were a teenager).

    The only "new" thing here is that because the number of people in the latter group who didn't use a computer before they had kids of their own is dwindling, now it's the platform being blamed. So, now it's fear about whichever platform their kids use that they haven't really used themselves. Thus the cycle will continue until the general population either demands politicians focus on underlying issues or media stop being dependent on clickbait and fearmongering for easy revenue. You can probably see the problem here...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:06pm

    Re:

    Most likely working extra hours to keep a roof over their heads while the internet acted as babysitter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:09pm

    Re:

    The trick is to have someone who knows what they're doing supervise and not just randomly copy what you saw on a video that may or may not give all the details involved in a safe experimental environment. But, lack of qualified supervision being present when kids decide to imitate something is hardly a new thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:18pm

    Blummy never met a moral panic he didn't like and even more so when it even slightly involves the internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    MathFox, 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:27pm

    Re:

    I hung out with a couple of friends that did some "outside the curriculum" chemistry experiments. Yes, some of those experiments included making fireworks. (NOTE: first make or acquire reliable fuses so that you can be at a safe distance when your experiment ignites.)

    The solid fuel rocket that one of the friends made was a success: it went so high and far that we never found it back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:28pm

    Is Senator Blumenthal really saying that all such educational resources teaching such science experiments need to be taken offline?

    Yes.

    Or rather, he appears to be urging that any content that even dares flirt with critical thinking be taken offline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:45pm

    Re: Re: Whoosh

    He has staffers for that.
    These "bungles" aren't about not knowing how/being able to do research -- in fact, they've researched their voting base quite extensively.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Whoosh

    "Wouldn't a better idea be to have someone to teach him how to do initial research using a search engine"

    No, it would be better to have someone teach him how to evaluate sources and understand history and context (or know when to delegate to someone who does). Surely this whole pandemic shows you that you shouldn't let these people "do their own research" with Google?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 1:06pm

    The entity known as TikTok should have run straight over to that kid's house and stopped him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Re: To be fair:

    The other thing is the severe denial in which they are engaged regarding the shit they did or saw their friends do as kids.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 1:41pm

    Wait until he finds out about the harmful things kids can see watching the nightly news.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 2:40pm

    WTF?

    moral panic

    Who the hell hasnt learned this from being a Kid/teen/friend?
    This is a very Old Alcohol and bottle experiment.
    IT TEACHES ALLOT. ANd is safer then using Gasoline.

    AND can anyone show me HOW this kid hurt himself enough with a plastic bottle? PLEASE!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 2:41pm

    Re: WTF?

    Wouild also ask, WHAT MORAL's are involved with this?
    Thu shalt not go boom?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Bobvious, 13 Jan 2022 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: To be fair:

    Methinks the Senator lives in a perpetual state of r/whoosh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 5:19pm

    Re:

    Ah come on, what could possibly go wrong from the penchant for the news to glorify and make famous with around the clock coverage anyone who does terrible things?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 5:29pm

    If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    It's a science thing and it's utterly ridiculous that Blumenthal is blaming TikTok for that -- and that the media is aiding him in this stupid, stupid moral panic.

    I believe you mean 'wildly effective', because as that very paragraph notes in it's intro...

    This kind of grandstanding seems to get Blumenthal headlines, which is what he seems to care about most. And the media seems to be eating up the false claim that the Whoosh Bottle Experiment is somehow "a TikTok thing." But it's not.

    Sure he comes out looking like a fool to anyone willing to do the barest amount of research into where the experiment actually comes from but not only is that not the target audience what he's doing plays extremely well for the gullible who've been conditioned to blame any and all problems on social media, and whether he's right or not it's still getting him lots of positive tv coverage from stations eager to jump on the 'let's blame [insert tech platform here] for society's problems' train with him.

    What he's doing is grossly dishonest but ridiculous it is not, as it's giving him oodles of soundbites of him Doing Something and chances to play to the gullible at no cost to him but some of his time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 6:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Whoosh

    No, it would be better to have someone teach him how to evaluate sources and understand history and context

    That doesn't help when the sources are interns and lobbyists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 9:57pm

    Re: If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    TOG,
    want some fun.
    Publish a pic of a science kit from the 60's compared to today.
    You may not believe it but we could blow up the house.
    AND even before that, in high schools they REALLY would show you SCIENCE. And how things worked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 10:03pm

    Re: Re: If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 11:34pm

    If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    ... it is a politician?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Jan 2022 @ 12:32am

    Re: WTF?

    "AND can anyone show me HOW this kid hurt himself enough with a plastic bottle?"

    Because obviously it was the bottle that sent him to hospital with severe burns and not the other parts of the experiment?

    You should really think your random screeds through before you post them more often, things like this make you look really stupid and get people to automatically skip over the posts where you do have a point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Jan 2022 @ 12:33am

    Re: Re: If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    "You may not believe it but we could blow up the house."

    Yep, and it happened enough that people wanted to stop it from happening on a regular basis and get kids to run their experiments with the supervision of qualified adults.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Jan 2022 @ 12:40am

    Re: Re: Re: If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    I know what you're trying to say, but "we used to allow kids to play with actively harmful radioactive material" isn't the flex you think it is.

    Also, if you want to paint this famous kit not being available today as being some affront to your glorious past growing up, your own link disproves you:

    "Alas, fewer than 5,000 of the Gilbert kits were sold, and it remained on the market only until 1951. The lackluster sales may have been due to the eye-popping price: US $49.50, or about $500 today."

    Either you grew up rich, or this is just another example of someone telling people how much better it was in the old days because of something they didn't even experience themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Bergman (profile), 14 Jan 2022 @ 5:41am

    Re: WTF?

    My questions would be whether Blumenthal flunked (or was expelled from) junior high school science class, and is that why he’s unaware of the whoosh bottle not being something invented by TikTok or even the internet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2022 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Whoosh

    Speaking as a Connecticut resident, his "voting base" is "Democrats have won every national election here for over three decades, there's nothing I can do to lose."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. icon
    ECA (profile), 14 Jan 2022 @ 9:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: If it's stupid and dishonest but it works...

    key word.

    QUALIFIED.
    I had the 24 chemical set and followed all the intstructions then ran out of chemicals or Wondered what would happen IF'.

    Its Better to know and SHARE the info when they are young then to let them find out the hard way.
    Mix almost anything with Bleach, and you WILL HAVE A PROBLEM.
    But how many Current parents KNOW any of this stuff?
    We learned in school how to use Either(sp) to dose butterflies and insects.
    And dont even start with mothballs and what they can do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 15 Jan 2022 @ 7:52pm

    Joe Lieberman Redux

    Strikes again!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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