Junkfood Science: Scientific context

February 28, 2007

Scientific context

Trevor Butterworth, editor at STATS, has written a great piece about the new publication released by chemical scientists at Sense about Science, called “Making Sense of Chemical Stories.” In the free download, they examine six of the most common misconceptions about chemicals in our lives and help us make sense of them.

As Mr. Butterworth writes:

If someone came into your house and offered you a cocktail of butanol, iso amyl alcohol, hexanol, phenyl ethanol, tannin, benzyl alcohol, caffeine, geraniol, quercetin, 3-galloyl epicatechin, 3-galloyl epigallocatchin and inorganic salts, would you take it?

Or would you place it in a secure container and contact the Environmental Working Group for advice? If recent media coverage of environmentalists’ concerns about our exposure to chemicals has left you feeling paranoid, then you might opt for the second option – or, as is more likely, you’d pour the mix down the drain and leave it for someone else to take care of.

Relax, says research chemist Derek Lohmann, all you’ve been offered is a cup of tea.

The publication, “Making Sense of Chemical Stories,” is fun to read for all ages. You don’t have to be a science nerd. The six misconceptions about chemicals the scientists explain are:

* You can lead a chemical-free life

* Man-made chemicals are inherently dangerous

* Synthetic chemicals are causing many cancers and other diseases

* Our exposure to a cocktail of chemicals is a ticking time-bomb

* It is beneficial to avoid man-made chemicals

* We are subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled experiment

In helping to explain Myth #1, for example, they talk about why detox diets make no scientific sense and give interesting facts such as: “Did you know that the average person has more than a trillion atoms of uranium in their body and that hundreds of these atoms are radioactively disintegrating every day?”

They offer some very simple ways to help us evaluate claims about chemicals and their risks, such as if they cause cancer. And perhaps one of the most valuable pages shows how “science-y” words are misused to scare us with chemicals.

Defusing fears about bioaccumulation may be especially helpful for those who worry about the cumulative effects of small exposures of chemicals in our modern life, a worry promoted by clinical ecologists.

And if you worry about additives in your food and wine you, they help explain those, too. Do you get drunker drinking the equivalent alcohol in a cocktail rather than a beer?

What’s one of the most powerful poisons known yet used safely every day?

You’ll probably want to read to find out. Good information can only help us better safeguard ourselves and our loved ones from needless worry. As Martha would say, "that's a good thing." :)

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