I’m sure we’ve all had those moments when we read one and think, “Seriously? Who would do that?” But, deep down, you know that it was only created out of necessity. Although you may respond to “DO NOT USE HAIR DRYER IN BATH” with “duh,” you’re not all too surprised that some unlucky soul tried this (once.) Let’s be honest, the general public simply can’t be trusted with some things.
I’ve always had to wonder if such warnings have any real preventative effect. Is there someone dumb enough to try these things but smart enough to read warning stickers or instruction manuals? Perhaps. In reality, it doesn’t matter if they read them or not, it’s all just legal precautions. Millions of warning labels are a lot cheaper than defending your product in court if this clown doesn’t understand that her curling iron is “for external use only.” (I’m not making this stuff up, people.)
When I hear of some of the ridiculously dangerous or blatantly stupid things people have done, I assume that it was some under-educated bumpkin that didn’t really know any better. This is why I find it horrifying to read some of the warning signs in institutions of higher learning. I found the following in a research laboratory at a university behind a door labeled “Authorized Personnel Only”
My classmates and I had a good laugh at that one. I mean, look at the picture. Not only is he using his mouth to pipet liquids, he appears to be doing so with his eyes shut. “I don’t always pipet acids with my mouth, but when I do I shut my eyes and pretend like I’m having a Coke.” We were all discussing that we really hoped that was overkill and not a reaction to something that someone had actually tried. Our professor overheard us and said, “Shouldn’t have to post that stuff, should we? When I was a graduate student, I worked with a guy that would pipet concentrated nitric acid with his mouth all the time. I was always scared he would hiccup or a car would backfire in the parking lot or something and he would suck the acid right down his throat.”
We all laughed, but the longer I thought about it, the more it scared me. This isn’t a reminder poster like the “Always wear safety goggles” ones. Those I can understand. Sometimes you forget things. But, if highly intelligent research scientists are out there pulling stunts like this, who on Earth can we trust with anything? I didn’t know there was a gray area between Smart-Enough-To-Do-Research-At-A-University and Smart-Enough-To-Not-Use-A-Glass-Straw-To-Remove-Acid-From-A-Beaker. Apparently I was wrong. So just how many people fall into this category? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that…
Maybe we should just remove the signs. If that guy wants to pipet concentrated acid with his mouth, by all means let him do it. If he accidentally gets it in his mouth and dies, I think that’s a sign that maybe we didn’t want to entrust him with any more grant money or use his findings.
It’s days like these that make me wonder why I participate in some societal activities. For instance, driving a car on a road with countless other people. Those people the warning labels are created for have access to motor vehicles. (Especially the ones that made it onto a research team.) Everyday I get into a large machine, pull out onto a road with other people doing the same thing, and I trust their instincts — the same instincts that didn’t prevent them from needing the labels “Do not drive with sun shield in place” and “Do not siphon gas with mouth.” Maybe the guy using the pipet is the same one that siphons gas with his mouth. Who knows?
You know what? I’m just going to pretend I didn’t think about that, seeing as my other option is to be a cave-dwelling hermit for the rest of my life. I sincerely apologize if I have further damaged your faith in humanity.
WARNING: Pondering the thought processes of other humans may lead to extreme paranoia and hermit-like behavior.