27 December 2008

Positive Discrimination

Many curious things crop up in Christmas stockings: one that appeared this year was the following book, "The Eleven-Plus Book: Genuine Exam Questions from Yesteryear" by Martin Steven; on the face of it an amusing curiosity. However, a closer look at the forward has the following:

"... Feminists missed a trick when they failed to adopt the Eleven-Plus as one of their symbols of male dominance. Marks had to be fiddled in order to give more grammar school places to boys; the girls did too well at the Eleven-Plus, both for the number of places available and the attitude of the times to women."

Astounding. An examination that everyone raves about as liberating people through education was systematically discriminating against generations of people who happened to be of the wrong gender.

I recall when positive discrimination was considered to be a political good by the Labour Party. Constituency 'women only' shortlists were drawn up to ensure that more women MPs were returned to Parliament.

One of the politicians who spoke out against this system was

Roy Hattersley

but as a former grammar school boy he was very likely to be a beneficiary of positive discrimination. Of course, if he was a beneficiary he inevitably took someone else's place and hence someone else's opportunities.

The Foreword also goes on to make another interesting and very topical point,

"... Furthermore, the whole structure whereby the Eleven-Plus was marked was based upon the supposition that academic ability was in turn based on a 'normal curve of distribution', ..."

but this can wait for another post.

24 December 2008

Acetonitrile Shortages

This story has already been covered in, "Acetonitrile (Did the housing bubble screw up your HPLC?)".

Quoting from the link above,

"From a recent C&E News:

Acetonitrile is a coproduct of the process used to make acrylonitrile, a building block for acrylic fibers and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resins. An acrylonitrile plant yields 2 to 4 L of acetonitrile for every 100 L of acrylonitrile produced. Only one U.S. producer, Ineos, bothers to extract it for sale to the merchant market, which it does at plants in Green Lake, Texas, and Lima, Ohio. Most acrylonitrile producers incinerate the coproduct as fuel.

And it is acetonitrile's status as a minor coproduct that has led to its present scarcity. Amin Dhalla, business director for Ineos Nitriles, says acrylonitrile production has been ebbing. Demand for ABS resins, used in cars, electronic housings, and small appliances, is slumping around the world because of the global economic slowdown. The acrylic fiber market is also on the decline, losing market share to polyester fibers. Operating rates at acrylonitrile plants are less than 60% globally."


  1. from the comments, http://www.acetonitrilerecycling.com/, and

  2. The Great Acetonitrile Shortage

23 December 2008

Not so trivial typos 1

I anticipate that I'll make quite a large number of typographical errors whilst blogging but I'll try to make sure that they aren't as a egregious as Actavis UK Ltd v Janssen Pharmaceutica NV [2008] EWHC 1422: the offending passage is reproduced below.

"15 This case concerns the stereochemistry of compounds with more than one chiral centre. In theory a structure with a number of chiral centres, (say N), will exist as 2N stereoisomers. So a structure such as that with which we are concerned in this case, with four chiral centres, could in theory have 16 stereoisomers. These stereoisomers consist of pairs of enantiomers, and there will be half of 2N, or 2(N-1) of these pairs. This is not always true, however, because in symmetrical molecules some of the stereoisomers will be the same.

16 A simple example is tartaric acid which has two chiral centres, and would therefore be expected to have four stereoisomers. In fact it has only three. In the diagram below enantiomers C and D are identical, because rotating one about the vertical axis makes it so:

17 Compunds which have chiral centres but which are in fact achiral are called meso compounds."

The typo is trivial - it is A and B, rather than C and D, that are identical - but it makes the difference between sense and nonsense; right and wrong.

Reading the passage more closely suggests a lack of understanding of Fisher projection by the author (although that isn't clear from the thickie-pedia explanation) rather than a simple typo. There is also a typo at the start of paragraph 17 but this has no effect upon what is being conveyed.

For a legal analysis of the patent here's a link to "Patent claims can't be interpreted by analogy" from the IPKat.

22 December 2008


I intend to blog as and when about whatever comes to mind.

I'm interested in chemistry and law.

But I will not be constrained by these two subjects.