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The Rise of Chemophobia In the News

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the dangerous-compounds dept.

Science 463

eldavojohn writes "American news outlets like The New York Times seem to thrive on chemophobia — consumer fear of the ambiguous concept of 'chemicals.' As a result, Pulitzer-prize winning science writer Deborah Blum has decided to call out New York Times journalist Nicholas Kirstof for his secondary crusade (she notes he is an admirable journalist in other realms) against chemicals. She's quick to point out the absurdity of fearing chemicals like Hydrogen which could be a puzzler considering its integral role played in life-giving water as well as life-destroying hydrogen cyanide. Another example is O2 versus O3. Blum calls upon journalists to be more specific, to avoid the use of vague terms like 'toxin' let alone 'chemical' and instead inform the public with lengthy chemical names like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) instead of omitting the actual culprit altogether. Kristof has, of course, resorted to calling makers of these specific compounds 'Big Chem' and Blum chastises his poorly researched reporting along with chemophobic lingo. Chemists of Slashdot, have you found reporting on 'chemicals' to be as poor as Blum alleges or is this no more erroneous than any scare tactic used to move newspapers and garner eyeballs?"

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frist (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944019)

Chemists of Slashdot, have you found reporting on 'chemicals' to be as poor as Blum alleges or is this no more erroneous than any scare tactic used to move newspapers and garner eyeballs?"

Yes. This is not an either/or question here; both are true.

Re:frist (5, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944403)

There's nothing new here, reporters screw up all their stories, whether it's a city council meeting, a new scientific discovery, or an engineering breakthrough. I'm pretty sure everyone here has seen a news story reporting about something in their field that they just had to shake their head in wonder at how stupid the reporter must be.

And don't forget, scare tactics and sensationalism bring eyeballs and ad revenue.

Re:frist (2)

chstwnd (1751702) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944445)

And don't forget, scare tactics and sensationalism bring eyeballs and ad revenue.

don't forget political power and government funds.

Re:frist (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944587)

It's not even that. There's a deep-seated fear of being poisoned baked into the human subconcious by millions of years of evolution. For whatever reason is far more terrifying to die from poison than, e.g., dying in a car accident, or getting shot in the face.

Eleven kids dying from bad cough syrup resulted in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act in the US. Only 11 deaths! This was in 1938; I guarantee you that there was a hundred times as many kids in Europe getting ground under the just-awakening wehrmacht at the time.

You know it's coming (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944059)

So when is Kirstof's writing an article about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide?

First bad joke?

Re:You know it's coming (4, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944585)

Dihydrogen monoxide? You mean, like, from the toilet?

H2o (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944065)

Dyhydrogen monoxide is a powerful chemical solvent! And I drink it every day...

Re:H2o (4, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944419)

That's why I like Duvel, it only contains about 92% of it.

Re:H2o (2)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944517)

You should switch to something cleaner, like Aquafina. I hear some of their plastic products have as low as 80% DHMO. The other 20% is primarily comprised of the same innocuous hydrocarbons you'd find in your toothbrush or remote control.

Re:H2o (1)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944521)

Drat; I already posted, so I can't mod you Funny.

Well played, Hognoxious.

DHMO (4, Funny)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944075)

Need I point out the most dangerous of all chemicals, Dihydrogen Monoxide? [dhmo.org] Especially with this year being the 100th anniversary of the Titanic incident, where a large number of the fatalities were actually due to DHMO poisioning, a fact that the One World Government has covered up?

Re:DHMO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944251)

Wow, I wonder if that website will ever site Penn and Teller.

Re:DHMO (5, Informative)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944281)

Guys, I appreciate the joke, but the nomenclature sucks. Dihydrogenmonoxide is just not IUPAC conform. Or would you call methane with a systematic name of "Tetrahydrogen monocarbide"? Either you go with the Silane, Borane etc. nomenclature and call it Oxiran, or you go the usual way and call it Oxygen hydride.

DHMO Poisoning is not what you think (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944441)

Especially with this year being the 100th anniversary of the Titanic incident, where a large number of the fatalities were actually due to DHMO poisioning

No, most deaths on the Titanic were most likely due to hypothermia due to the cold water. Those that got hit on the head or trapped or were too infirm to stay afloat long enough for hypothermia to get them and so drowned died because their lungs could not extract oxygen from water. I am guessing that it is a very safe bet that nobody died from drinking too much water [wikipedia.org] which is how you die of DHMO poisoning.

Re:DHMO Poisoning is not what you think (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944503)

Exactly! They didn't have Wii giveaways back then.

monohydro dioxide (0)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944091)

This is a scary one and it's all over the place ;)

Re:monohydro dioxide (2)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944181)

Yes, hydroperoxyl is dangerous since it destroys ozone in the stratosphere.

Re:monohydro dioxide (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944269)

Nah, I blew it. I meant dihydrogen monoxide. Never go from memory when you have google.

Re:monohydro dioxide (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944197)

So HO2 is all over the place eh? Nice try slick but no. Moron

GOOD LORD I JUST DRANK SOME!!!! (1)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944295)

I'm drinking soda and it's listed on the back as an ingredient! What can I do?!?

Re:GOOD LORD I JUST DRANK SOME!!!! (3, Funny)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944399)

Shit, responded to wrong parent. When is Slashdot going to get a comment "edit"?

Re:GOOD LORD I JUST DRANK SOME!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944485)

Shit, responded to wrong parent. When is Slashdot going to get a comment "edit"?

When the human race runs out of trolls back-editing their posts to twist their own words. So, let's go with "never", since the occasional accidental mis-replying is far less damaging to sane, productive discussion than "HA LAWL I NEVER SAID TAHT LAWL REED MY POST LAWL", and Slashdot knows this from a decade or so of experience with the internet.

Re:GOOD LORD I JUST DRANK SOME!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944421)

Finger down the throat, purge what you can and then call Poison Control

Re:monohydro dioxide (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944451)

And it usually contains hydroxylic acid as a natural contaminant.

Re:monohydro dioxide (1)

dietdew7 (1171613) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944687)

Sorry dude, high school chemistry fail.

Beware Dihydrogen Monoxide (-1, Redundant)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944093)

Beware Dihydrogen Monoxide [dhmo.org] . It can kill you within minutes, yet is it everywhere around you.

Re:Beware Dihydrogen Monoxide (1)

0p7imu5_P2im3 (973979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944331)

Yes! Dihydrogen Monoxide is so prevalent in our polluted environment that we likely breath it in with every breath we take!

Re:Beware Dihydrogen Monoxide (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944447)

What, like out of the toilet?

Organic Food (0)

zaibazu (976612) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944103)

Will save us What idiot came up with this label anyway ?

Here in germany it is almost as bad, the products are called Bio-"whateveryoufancy"

Re:Organic Food (2)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944241)

All I know is that all the food I eat is organic. I don't know of any foods that don't contain carbon.

Re:Organic Food (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944487)

Salt.

Re:Organic Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944291)

Will save us What idiot came up with this label anyway ?

Here in germany it is almost as bad, the products are called Bio-"whateveryoufancy"

So they trying to add "bio-logic" to the long list of redefined words and turning it into an oxymoron?

Re:Organic Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944543)

More bio-burden.

Re:Organic Food (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944371)

Probably the same idiot at the FTC or FDA who thought "natural milk" sounded like a dangerous substance and started prosecuting Amish-Americans (i.e. organic farmers), because their customers carried the product from PA to Maryland.

Last I checked that's the customer who committed the supposed-crime, not the farmer. Arrest the customer. (Or better yet: Don't arrest anybody.)

Re:Organic Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944413)

An idiot with a sense of humor. Bureaucrats like to be funny too!! (Anonymous because I'm the one who came up with those names)

Re:Organic Food (2)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944469)

In the US, the USDA certifies [usda.gov] food products that meets certain criteria as "organic".

Obviously, there are other definitions of "organic". Interestingly the definitions are not uniform across disciplines.

Liberal eco freaks (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944139)

Science illiterate, social media sheeps.

Re:Liberal eco freaks (5, Informative)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944233)

Science illiterate, social media sheeps.

That's funny .. I was going to suggest Science illiterate, anti-education Conservative rednecks.
 
It all comes down to ...
 
IGNORANT PEOPLE
 
I say ignorant rather than stupid because of something a colleague told me years ago:

Ignorance can be cured with education. Stupidity can only be cured with a hand gun

So as I am an optimist I am hoping for "ignorant"

no. morons. (4, Insightful)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944537)

you can bombard some people with facts, and logic, and 2x4s all day long, and they will stubbornly refuse to accept a stone-cold fact if it falls on their foot.

they are beyond cure, or explaination, or apology.

they are morons. their little pea-brains are furiously working all the time to reject information and cling to what The Voices tell them. they are not capable of understanding that...

FACT: enough of anything is a poison.

FACT: some stuff is more poisonous than others.

FACT: some stuff is so frikkin deadly that if some nut whispers its name a continent away, birds fall in flight.

FACT: grouping all these types of chemicals as one by either side of a stupid argument should require using those idiots as guinea pigs in testing all known classes of chemicals in LD100 tests.

you're welcome. next global issue, please... .

Re:Liberal eco freaks (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944559)

Willful ignorance can not be cured with education because they refuse to believe the education.

Re:Liberal eco freaks (3, Insightful)

MarkGriz (520778) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944563)

It all comes down to ...

IGNORANT PEOPLE

I say ignorant rather than stupid because of something a colleague told me years ago:

IGNORANT PEOPLE with internet access.

100 years ago, ignorance spread rather slowly. Today, you can convince 1000 people of some bullshit in a matter of seconds.

Re:Liberal eco freaks (3, Informative)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944649)

As a liberal that has lived in a commune (Zendik Farm, Bastrop Texas, late 90's) I can attest to the huge number of hippies afraid of "chemicals", Sodium lauryl sulfate (derived from coconut or palm oils) is one that really grinds their gears. Fuckers kept tossing my toothpaste when I wasn't looking.

This is usually a liberal issue, unless you live in a cancer cluster and then you'll see a fair number for conservatives pick up the chemophobia banner.

MOD HIM DOWN NOW OMG!!!1 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944365)

Figured you'd give your karma a swift kick in the nads eh?

btw, liberal eco freak sheep types predate social media.

Re:Liberal eco freaks (4, Insightful)

skids (119237) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944475)

To some extent, yes. On the other hand, our society is built upon specialization so not everyone can be expected to invest in literacy in all fields. Really where the failure occurs which allows irrational fear of "chemicals" to evolve is in the large number of cases where an actually harmful chemical does real damage, and said damage is denied and covered up by institutions which the public feels powerless against. That poisons the well, and after that, is is open season for sensationalist media profiteers.

I find it hard to call a group of conspiracy theorists and/or worry warts "sheep" by the way, because the true sheep are the people that rely on arguments to authority to dismiss any disturbing information. Modern society is more like a bunch of confused squirrels.

As a former chemist (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944161)

I find much in the popular media to be anti-chemical. Invariably, "Chemical" is used as a perjorative, almost always being prefixed with either toxic or hazardous. Further, it seems that the term "organic" means without "chemicals", which is idiotic, since Every! Single! Thing! is composed of chemicals.

So, anyway, I have a wonderful time with the chemophobes, preferring to use the term "Organic" to refer to a class of covalently-bonded chemicals, primarily composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms, with various other elements occasionally found.

So, most pesticides (with the exception of things like Bordeaux powder) are organic, as artificial sweeteners, etc. Water is never organic, btw.

Re:As a former chemist (-1)

jgotts (2785) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944569)

Chemists and their friends chemical engineers create industrial processes that produce chemical compounds but they seem to have little (certainly historically) care for either waste products or biological consequences of the intended end products.

For example, you have oil refineries that when designed and built didn't seem too bad but current science makes it pretty clear that these oil refineries kill people.

In my field, software, we consider one death to be one too many. If there was a piece of software written in the 60s out there killing people, well, it would have been replaced in the 60s.

Perhaps the chemicals and processes you are creating today are more benign, but you don't have a very good track record, do you?

Re:As a former chemist (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944623)

Just beware: if you ask for organic salt, you should know what you're getting...

Re:As a former chemist (4, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944671)

"Chemical" is used as a perjorative

Damn right, and I love it. When someone says something I don't like, I just give them with a disdainful look and say "I don't have to take that from someone filled with disgusting chemicals."

Chemicals are dangerous! (-1, Redundant)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944163)

See this website [dhmo.org] for information about the extremely dangerous chemical known as "Dihydrogen Monoxide"!!!
 
:rolleyes:

Re:Chemicals are dangerous! (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944177)

Crap, QuietLagoon beat me to it.

On the flip side (5, Insightful)

joeflies (529536) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944165)

I find it somewhat annoying that there seems to be a mainstream association with the "natural" to mean "safe". There are lots of naturally occurring dangerous substances.

Re:On the flip side (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944217)

I'd be intrigued to study a chemical that does not come from nature (also known as the universe).

Re:On the flip side (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944405)

Some of them are made in super-coliders. Though you'd be hard pressed to encounter one of those chemicals.

Re:On the flip side (2)

drerwk (695572) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944417)

Do you mean element?

chemical
noun - a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, esp. artificially: never mix disinfectant with other chemicals | controversy arose over treatment of apples with this chemical.

Point is that the common usage of the word, and the definition in my dictionary means especially artificially produced.

Re:On the flip side (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944507)

Ununseptium?

Re:On the flip side (4, Funny)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944245)

Yea, like grizzly bears. Those a natural, but they can ruin your afternoon.

Re:On the flip side (1)

swx2 (2632091) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944473)

There was this brief clip i caught on TV years ago that made this exact point. It was something about steroids, and one of the guys that was promoting its use said "Don't worry, the stuff's all natural", to which another guy replied "So what? Heroin is all natural!"

Re:On the flip side (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944561)

I find it somewhat annoying that there seems to be a mainstream association with the "natural" to mean "safe". There are lots of naturally occurring dangerous substances.

Guess I'll take my chances with Mother Nature...I'd rather die quickly and honestly of natural causes than die slowly from the cancerous lies of greed and corruption surrounding Government-approved "safe" chemicals.

Re:On the flip side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944595)

All natural injectable scorpion venom, get yours today!

Re:On the flip side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944611)

I always laugh at this too, especially with the latest stevia craze.

They can't even get "hacker" write (3, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944167)

They've successfully re-educated the public and turned a good word (hacker==hobbyist) into an evil word, such that stores yank magazines off shelves if the title says, "How to hack your Linux computer". And you expect reporters to correctly published chemical formulas when they never took chemistry classes in college??? LOL.

(And yes I picked the subject on purpose.)

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944225)

You can't even get "right" right.

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944453)

I wrote:
>>>>>And yes I picked the subject on purpose.

Anonymous Coward wrote:
>>You can't even get "right" right.

Why do Anon. Cowards even bother to speak? They can't read the post directly in front of their nose. And neither can the moderator who gave him +1 point! LOL.

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

Soft Cosmic Rusk (1211950) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944529)

You can't even read write!

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944665)

You can't even read write!

Execute him!

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (0)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944311)

the first us of hacker, and most used since then, have been to describe criminal activity. I'm not sure why people think it use to solely be a good word.

Look up the first use of the word hacker . It was in the 50's or 60's describe telephone fraud at MIT.

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944565)

>>>the first us of hacker... to describe criminal activity

False. Prior to 1990, the word used for people with evil intent was "safecracker" or "lockpick" or just plain "thief". People copying games were said to be "cracking" the disk or program.

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

mmcxii (1707574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944681)

False. Ken Thompson used the term "hacking" in matters of security exploits in 1983. I wouldn't be surprised if there are references prior to that as well.

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944643)

He's confusing the original history of the word with the MIT Hacks page (some funny stuff in there, no I don't care to link it).

Re:They can't even get "hacker" write (1)

mmcxii (1707574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944575)

From what I've read the magazine wasn't pulled because of a title. It was pulled because it detailed potential criminal activity. I've seen tons of magazine that mention "hack" that never get pulled.

I'm not saying that what they did was right, I'm just saying that you're over simplifying the matter.

I love chemicals! (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944235)

I'm made of them.

molecules (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944253)

the correct term is molecufear as in a fear of molecules, fearing what you can't see.

Alarmists tend to have names . . . (5, Informative)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944257)

...they're just usually not the right ones. For example, the token anti-vaccine person I know rails first about vaccines. Then, if pressed, he will say that the issue is the mercury. Then, if pressed more, he will say some specific compound involving mercury such as thimerosal.

The point is, people can fixate on names all day. It's people's tribalism that's the problem. If one person has a terrible problem with one doctor, that means that he or she will tell all of his or her friends that doctors are bad, and science is bad, and that home birth is the ONLY WAY. And then he or she will go out in search of anecdotes and outlier studies to support his or her claim.

And yes. There will be studies to support any claim. This is why news sources need to slap their sources' confidence intervals [wikipedia.org] right next to any reporting done on studies, ever.

Re:Alarmists tend to have names . . . (3, Insightful)

jackbird (721605) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944385)

What does your token anti-vax friend say while they pick up their teeth with broken fingers? If you haven't fucking punched them right in the face, you aren't doing your civic duty.

Re:Alarmists tend to have names . . . (4, Insightful)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944591)

Haven't seen him in person since high school, honestly. Good ol' Facebook with the Facebook 'friends' and suchlike.

Punching someone with a strong belief in something only strengthens their belief. I'd much prefer to convince them that it doesn't matter as much as they think, and then change their belief through reason once all that pesky emotion is out of the way. One asshole science-person counteracts hundreds of completely fine science-people.

That said, if I had kids, I would give him a fucking piece of my mind, because I don't want their god damn disease-ridden kids getting my kids sick. And aside from that, anti-vaccine people treat autism like it's some sort of death sentence. Like any autistic person is instantly a pariah. It's the more subtle douchery of anti-vaccine people.

Re:Alarmists tend to have names . . . (0)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944677)

Or else they claim it has Tracking Devices in the vaccine.

I am pro-vaccine and had all my shots, but am also anti-force. The government has no more right to force a needle into your body, then to force a penis into your body. Both actions are a violation of your natural right to control what goes into your body. Force is the opposite of freedom.

Good (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944277)

well done, more people need to make these demands on journalists.

Want fear, use the scientific name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944297)

I've notice that whenever they want people to be afraid of something, they always use the scientific name. Don't want people to drink sea water, tell them that the sodium chloride and other fancy salt names are poisonous; hydrocarbons and polyethylene discovered in the Pacific Gyre; and other such nonsense.

Electrolytes! (2)

hansbrix (1732368) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944315)

It's what plants crave!

Better living through chemistry (4, Insightful)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944351)

Sorry, but once that phrase was co-opted by the enviro-wackos to mean that all chemicals were bad it should have been clear that things were going to take a turn for the worse. Today it is clear to everyone that "chemicals" are bad. Nearly everyone does not understand that "chemicals" are things that are present in the heavily filtered water you are drinking, the nice organic food you are eating and in the very air you are breathing. Most people think you can filter out all the "chemicals" and that if you do not, you aren't safe.

This has been going on since the 1970s and with 40 years of it behind us there is almost nothing anyone is going to be able to do to stop it.

We have politicians that believe this or at least profess to agree with their constituents who believe it. Laws are being made to accomodate these beliefs.

We are so far down the moron path (1)

ddd0004 (1984672) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944357)

It's probably better just to accept it at this point. We believe marketing over scientifically proven facts by an overwhelming margin. I'm just going to enjoy my gentleman's latte with happy ending and the latest episode of "Ow! my balls"

Enough of this, I need to go water my lawn with Brawndo. It's got what plants crave.

Irritated (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944383)

I am a chemist, and the word "chemical" has become anathema to the public based on irresponsible reporting. It irritates me everytime I see it. YOU are made up of chemicals. The problem is that people are scientifically illiterate, including most reporters, so being more specific is too difficult for the reporters and irrelevant for most of the public. Yeah, I'm a little cynical.

Just say no (1)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944411)

We've been told for decades to "just say no" to drugs. Is the fact that some folks internalized the concept really so surprising?

Remember, "better living through chemistry" means drug abuse as surely as "gay" means homosexual.

chemophobia (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944425)

Science reporting in general is quite bad, so this isn't surprising. However, I hope articles like this aren't cited by the ignorant to justify all manner of chemicals - many of which ARE harmful. We would all benefit for higher standards of testing, and a saner approach to approving or rejecting potentially toxic chemicals.

While the ideal would be for everyone to be educated, that's not going to happen. It is far better for the ignorant to be skeptical than to be trusting, and I'd much rather see chemophobia than blind acceptance.

My experience (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944491)

Being the husband of a pregnant wife that has way too much time to spend on the internet, it does seem as though "chemicals" are, in fact, going to kill us all and that it's nothing short of a miracle that any of us survived childhood.

Chemichals vs Minerals (1)

fbellag (1046976) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944493)

I've found out that people sees "chemichals" as being bad, and "minerals" as being a good thing. Also they see mining for those minerals is a bad thing, again. F

Re:Chemichals vs Minerals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944597)

But, minerals aren't organic, except for coal, gas, and petroleum.

Stop Being Pedantic (5, Insightful)

JLDohm (741501) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944499)

Yes, they are using the word "chemicals" wrong. Get over it. Use your brain to substitute something that is correct and listen to what they are saying. Just because they paint all chemicals as evil, and they are wrong, does not mean that all chemicals are safe. With snakes, I assume they are poisonous unless I know otherwise. Why not do the same with things I put in my body?

Science Literacy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944501)

This is really a reflection of the state of education in our U.S. of A. I used to teach high school chemistry, and one of the first exercises I had my students do was to think of some daily activity and to really consider everything they did which made use of chemicals. Since a chemical is simply anything made by chemistry, everything they came into contact with was a chemical. Getting them to realize this though was not always easy. Is cotton a chemical? Yes! Is water a chemical? Yes! Is the metal of your bedframe a chemical? Yes! Just because something is created through a natural chemical process does not mean it is not a chemical. Most people however do not realize this, and do indeed think that "all chemicals are bad". The truth is closer to one of my favorite chemistry/alchemy quotes "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous." --Paracelsus.

Many students also commented on the different meanings of the term "organic" within the clasroom and the grocery store.

One of the great chemistry writers is John Emsley, and his "Molecules at an Exhibition" is an excellent read about the chemicals around us every day, and the effects they have on our daily lives and long term health. If more writers wrote like that about chemicals in our daily lives than the public would be better informed.

Whatever happened to ... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944505)

"Better living through chemistry."

That was either DuPont or Timothy Leary's motto. I forget which.

Toxic vs. Hazardous (1)

fl!ptop (902193) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944541)

I really don't mind the lax reporting, what irks me is when the journalists classify stuff as "toxic." WRT chemical industry, the proper term to use is "hazardous."

Re:Toxic vs. Hazardous (2)

Penguininja (2635641) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944603)

No, 'hazardous' is ambiguous. How hazardous? To whom? Via what routes? The correct terms are harmful (damaging to health at levels that might be encountered, e.g not eating 100 kg of it), toxic (harmful at very low levels), carcinogenic and teratogenic. The correct terms are here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/chip/phrases.htm [hse.gov.uk] This is why risk assessments in chemistry are carefully worded in some detail. You can't describe how harmful a chemical is in a single word.

Re:Toxic vs. Hazardous (2)

Penguininja (2635641) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944655)

Forgot to add: hazards can also include flammability, explosiveness, damage to the aquatic environment, irritating, corrosive, oxidising ...

Both explanations are true (5, Insightful)

sam_handelman (519767) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944609)

Truth1: Chemistry reporting is as bad as all other science reporting.
Truth2: The Chemical industry is as unconcerned with "externalities" as any other business.

  Reporters will get you to panic even if they don't have a good reason; the reason that reporters are capable of spreading panic easily is because chemical manufacturers will poison you in order to make a buck. So, from a certain standpoint, the response of the general public is rational - they don't trust the chemical industry, and they shouldn't, so why not err on the side of caution when dealing with certified professional liars (marketing, PR and advertising people). Particulates are bad for you; the chemical industry (and domestic manufacturing generally) denies this, but they're lying. Vaccines are not harmful; but they are a big emerging profit center for pharma. If vaccines were harmful (again, they aren't), would pharma lie about it? Damn straight they'd lie through their teeth. So it becomes a double problem - it's difficult to educate the public about what is safe (vaccines are safe), and at the same time it's difficult to get robust action on what isn't safe (airborne particulates are not safe; neither are most chlorinated organics, heavy metals, etc.)

TFA is about terminology (1)

c0mmie (1370213) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944631)

TFA makes a fair point that some authors will talk about "chemicals" as having specific toxic effects on certain species, without specifying which chemicals they are talking about. She is not arguing against environmentalists, though. Clearly when people complain about chemicals in the environment, they are talking about man-made toxins that need to be regulated better, not about dihidrogen monoxide or whatever other smartass examples people want to come up with. The fact still stands that there are A LOT of toxins in our environment, and that number is growing at an alarming rate.

CO2 -- the basis for most life on Earth (0)

quarkscat (697644) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944653)

It is one thing to bleat in the press about global warming, which is happening to every planet in the solar system, and another thing to blame global warming only on mankind. Let's ignore the one factor that makes the most sense for every every planet in our solar system, changes in the Sun. Let's cripple all of the economies of the developed world, and send our wealth to the international banksters as penance for not being "carbon-neutral". It's not as if the international banksters, or Al Gore, don't have enough of our money already.

I suppose that all of those robotic probes that mankind has landed throughout the solar system are generating so much CO2 from their internal combustion engines that we are causing the global warming of these other planets (besides Earth). It just could not be cyclical changes in the Sun, or the impending arrival of an exo-planet with enough mass to cause tectonic plate shifts and resistance to rotation of the Earth's molten core, could it?

Focusing on CO2 levels, instead of radiation from nuclear power plant failures, use of depleted uranium for warfare, deadly chemicals in our air, soil, & water, and genetic franken-foods aren't the bigger threats is really, really short-sighted & misdirected.

Colloquial vs. technical language? (4, Insightful)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 2 years ago | (#39944663)

Isn't this just a case of colloquial vs. technical language?

I think most non-technical folk associate the term "chemical" with artificially manufactured or extracted substances not usually encountered in our little corner of nature. Colloquial meanings often differ from modern technical usage (see also "organic", "work", "weight"). Words mean different things in different contexts - deal with it.

By all means challenge specific cases of "chemophobia" but you won't win any hearts and minds by telling people they're stupid because they don't use the same definition of "chemical" as you.

Also, remember the hidden wisdom of the old "dihydrogenmonoxide" joke: there ain't no such thing as a "harmless substance" and anything can be toxic or dangerous if too much of it turns up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I mean, harmless old Sodium Chloride might not seem a problem until every food manufacturer starts adding it in huge quantities to make their product tastier without paying for more expensive spices.

Beware Dihydrogen Monoxide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944675)

From http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html, "Research conducted by award-winning U.S. scientist Nathan Zohner concluded that roughly 86 percent of the population supports a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Although his results are preliminary, Zohner believes people need to pay closer attention to the information presented to them regarding Dihydrogen Monoxide. He adds that if more people knew the truth about DHMO then studies like the one he conducted would not be necessary."

Say what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39944685)

inform the public with lengthy chemical names like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)

I'm not sure how that will inform the public.

I'd guess plenty of college freshmen on science-heavy courses wouldn't know the empirical or structural formula, let alone know what its properties are.

I wouldn't (it looks like an odd mixture of the old & new systems to me).

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