I think there are very few that would argue that this case is ridiculous. Reading the comments on any one of the numerous articles written about he incident makes that clear. But what isn't being said is the toll it may be taking on potential future scientists. When curiosity is publicly rewarded with an arrest, this isn't helping to create budding scientists, its telling people that science is dangerous and scary and should only be done only under a teacher's supervision. Personally, I find the most disturbing part of all the coverage to be the fact that the line: "science teachers at the school said they knew nothing about it" is repeated in every article as if to say "if it was a real science experiment, the teachers would have to be involved." Nothing could be further from the truth. The best science experiments are the ones done in kitchens, in back yards, in garages and in fields.
I want to be clear that I'm not endorsing risky behavior. There are many things that can be dangerous and it is easy for a science experiment to go wrong. Heck, I'm the poster child for that having accidentally electrocuted my boss on her first day (no permanent harm was done). It is important to take safety precautions when doing any science experiment, particularly when there might be big bangs. However, as far as I can tell from the articles, Ms. Wilmot did things pretty safely with the exception of it being on schools grounds. The bottle was in an open field, there was no one around and she expected only smoke. If she had used a soda bottle instead of a water bottle, most likely nothing would have happened. Soda bottles are much stronger than water bottles because soda is pressurized. If she'd done it in her front yard there would have been no issue. But hands on learning and exploring in a school yard, nope, not allowed. Do real science on your own time in your house, not in school.
I was a kid that grew up exploring. I couldn't stop touching or taking things apart or putting things together the wrong way around just to see what happened. I am now a PhD physicist because my parents encouraged my constant need to know. I now try and foster that need in others. I hate to see that spirit of exploration and need to know what's going to be stamped out because it wasn't done under a teacher's supervision in a classroom. If I was in trouble every time I tried to melt my Barbies with a magnifying glass or got arrested for setting off model rockets in the field near my house I would certainly have been an English major.
I hope that Ms. Wilmot continues her science experiments though in her own yard and not on school property and I wish there was something I could do to keep her playing with science. Personally, I'm sending her some comics and posters and a note begging her to stay curious because scientific curiosity could also end in a trip to Sweden and not just a trip to juvie.