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Blowing soap in your eyes
April 28, 2014 2:33 AM   Subscribe

And now for my magic marketing trick! (I mean, illusion.) By simply conflating surfactants and their main use, soap, I will now proceed to warn you that soap is in absolutely everything, and we should all freak the hell out, NOW. -- Through a handy demonstration Michelle Wong explains why the danger of chemicals is often inflated for The Toast's Gal Science column.
posted by MartinWisse (90 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Two other popular ones:

1. Cherrypicking elements out of a compound with no regard for oxidation state or how it's bound (salt is made of an explosive metal and a deadly gas!)

2. Listing the horrible things used in the production of a product with no regard as to whether they're still in the final product (yes, most coffee is decaffeinated with methylene chloride, but it evaporates so readily that there is essentially zero left in your beans). Another example over this one is the current kerfluffle over azodicarbonamide in bread--"it's toxic and used in making yoga mats". Both true, but completely irrelevant to your sandwich: the whole reason they put it in there is that when you bake it, it breaks down into gases, helping make your bread fluffy (it is a hazard to the people manufacturing stuff with it).
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:09 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]


"All-natural lotion," ha! My favorite shampoo is Neutrogena T/Gel, which is made of COAL TAR and says so right on the bottle. The packaging looks like something from AutoZone and it makes your shower smell like a refinery. I love it so much
posted by theodolite at 3:14 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]


That's great.

Next: the most horrible organic compounds.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:26 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


Ask your representative to get metadioxin banned, at once.
posted by Gyan at 4:16 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Hilariously, T/Gel is actually banned in parts of continental Europe due to panic about coal tar's supposed carcinogenic effects.
posted by Zarkonnen at 4:36 AM on April 28


This wasn't particularly clever when it was the di-hydrogen monoxide stunt, and the context is usually anti-environmentalist or anti-science or both. I don't think she really understands the company she's choosing to keep, here.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:38 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


This is a great article, but I'm not loving the "gal science" moniker. "I'm not a scientist, I'm a Gal Scientist!" said no female scientist, ever. I think we're on the same page about giving women in the science more esteem and recognition, but calling them "Gals" doesn't seem likely to achieve that.

On the other hand, everything else about this article is just awesome. My partner has a science background and now works on toxic substance control, and helping Congress-critters differentiate their chemophobia from the real concerns is a constant battle.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:38 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]




Amen to everything in this article! I would love a series of them, attacking more than just surfactants. I hope y'all have some more good articles like this lined up for continued reading, because I'm in desperate need of some (not joking). Dihydrogen monoxide is funny the first time, but not anymore. Though like anotherpanacea, I was unimpressed with the "gal scientist" schtick.
posted by whatzit at 4:46 AM on April 28


Slap*Happy: "the context is usually anti-environmentalist or anti-science or both."

Wait, the context of articles which explain scientific concepts and how to see through anti-science woo are in themselves actually anti-science? How does that work?
posted by Bugbread at 4:55 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Her reasoning on rat cancer is faulty, IMO. Although I agree that cancer rats getting cancer is not a reason to pull a chemical out of everything, it does point to something which should be investigated. So the alarm over it is overinflated, but we shouldn't just write it off cause there was a lot, and the rats get tumours easy.

Everything else is wonderful, and I loved the explanation of surfactants, which didn't actually need to have the framing it did, but I guess it helps drum up interest.
posted by Bovine Love at 4:58 AM on April 28


"This is a great article, but I'm not loving the "gal science" moniker. "I'm not a scientist, I'm a Gal Scientist!" said no female scientist, ever."
Well, all of us who got around to reading the fucking article are familiar with at least one, and there are more than a dozen linked in the FPP.

There is a pretty dire lack of both female science writers, as well as readers and editors who will take female science writers seriously without taking every opportunity to define them solely by their gender or unload they're misogyny, and this is really impressively good work. Just looking through the other articles in their archive they not only consistently hit that rare confluence of being accessible and knowing what the fuck they're talking about, but are also covering important things from interesting perspectives. We need more female science educators, and particularly more visibly female science educators, and I can't imagine what could be a substantive problem with that.

If anyone else is hungry for more, here is a post on Emily Graslie's curated list of youtube STEM educators
posted by Blasdelb at 5:02 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


This is a great article, but I'm not loving the "gal science" moniker.

Yeah, I can understand that. I'm guessing the Toast is using it as a placeholder name for the moment while they're looking for a regular science columnist.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:03 AM on April 28


Wait, the context of articles which explain scientific concepts and how to see through anti-science woo are in themselves actually anti-science? How does that work?

By minimizing the risks of untested chemicals or deliberately conflating them with those that are well known and understood. It's basically sneering at you for not being bright or educated enough to know a harmless chemical from a harmful one, and that you can't trust common authorities to tell you the truth. It's implying the default mode of ignorance about chemicals is "it's safe, trust us."

Sorry, no.

While there is a lot of good that can come from untangling marketing claims by cosmetic companies and understanding which substances are harmless to the environment and human health and why, the framing of this is straight from the anti-environmentalist playbook. There is a history behind it, she's not the first to use it, and it's suspect when anyone trots it out. "There's soap in your lungs, therefore surfactants are safe!"

Sorry, no.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:09 AM on April 28 [10 favorites]


I would add: conflating all concerns about the safety of manufacture and wide use of industrial chemicals with the concerns of the most cherry-picked, uneducated, reflex-protesting, "all natural" people that can be found.
posted by thelonius at 5:15 AM on April 28


"Unfortunately you can’t use this science to explain why homosexuality is wrong. It’s been done, sorry."

Unfortunately? That aside, pretty cool article, will continue reading now.
posted by marienbad at 5:31 AM on April 28


TFA: "“This chemical gave rats cancer in a study, we need to take it out of our shampoo/food/clothing!” (Despite the fact that the rats used in these sorts of studies are specifically bred to grow tumors like they’re going out of style, and to receive the amount the rats did, you’d have to mainline a swimming pool’s worth of shampoo/food/clothing every week.)"

Bovine Love: "Her reasoning on rat cancer is faulty, IMO. Although I agree that cancer rats getting cancer is not a reason to pull a chemical out of everything, it does point to something which should be investigated. So the alarm over it is overinflated, but we shouldn't just write it off cause there was a lot, and the rats get tumours easy."
Cancer rats getting cancer points to exactly nothing; and neither does how creepy their tumors look in sensationalized pictures taken for the press, nor does the length of the name of the chemical they were feed, nor does the applicability to the Daily Mail's ongoing oncological ontology project. What does often matter though is mice or rats of strains that are appropriate to the system being studied getting cancer significantly more often than an appropriately maintained control group as part of a study designed with the statistical power to detect such a difference using standardized statistical tests in an environment that accounts for pseudoreplication as well as false differences.

Pretty much categorically, if rats are even being mentioned in news about scientific topics - much less being displayed in gory detail - its because 'researchers' are going to journalists with details more appropriate to their peers because their peers would see it for the bullshit that it is. Real news about a thing that gives rats cancer in ways that matter will also be backed up by other types of data from more diverse approaches and it will be a community of scientists going to journalists.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:31 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]


the Daily Mail's ongoing oncological ontology project

Kill or Cure?
posted by zamboni at 5:37 AM on April 28


Slap*Happy: "This wasn't particularly clever when it was the di-hydrogen monoxide stunt, and the context is usually anti-environmentalist or anti-science or both. I don't think she really understands the company she's choosing to keep, here."

Could you elaborate? There are certainly some environmentalists who commit the fallacies she's complaining about here; those would be the stupid and wrong environmentalists.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:37 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


It's implying the default mode of ignorance about chemicals is "it's safe, trust us."

You may be inferring that, but look at what it's actually saying in the text:
Well, the best course of action is to understand the science behind the claim. But unfortunately we don’t all have the time to be completely informed on every aspect of all the products we use in our day-to-day lives. A more practical approach? Learn the basics, and then ask all the questions. Pester, pester, pester. Ask the seller. Ask Google Scholar. Ask your friendly local scientist, who will probably relish the opportunity to wax lyrical to an enthusiastic audience. Ask multiple scientists and watch them battle to help you understand. (I guess what I’m trying to say is, be my friend! I’m useful, sometimes!) Then compare the answers, and see which ones fit together to give a plausible explanation.
That's two "understand"s, a "learn," five "ask"s and a "compare" -- just in that one paragraph -- while there isn't a single "trust" in the entire article.
posted by Etrigan at 5:39 AM on April 28 [19 favorites]


.... I'm not loving the "gal science" moniker.

I grew up as a science-loving kid when you'd get the nitty-gritty details exclusively from men, usually wearing lab coats. While reading this I thought "Hmm, I guess these days I can look to get nerdy details from women who also care about skin lotion." ["Michelle hails from Australia, has a PhD in chemistry and blogs about beauty science."]. Me, I don't care about whether it comes with a lab coat or blue nail polish so long as I get my nerd fix. But I can see it being irritating if "gal" is being used dismissively.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:48 AM on April 28


"By minimizing the risks of untested chemicals or deliberately conflating them with those that are well known and understood. It's basically sneering at you for not being bright or educated enough to know a harmless chemical from a harmful one, and that you can't trust common authorities to tell you the truth. It's implying the default mode of ignorance about chemicals is "it's safe, trust us.""
At no point does the article talk about 'untested' chemicals, which are not allowed in food or in contact with us to begin with, or even trust - what it does is give consumers tools they can use to cut through a lot of the most ridiculous of FUD tactics used by the corporations that dominate the 'environmentalist' market. It is implying that, in the ignorance that is unfortunately the default mode of consumers, their ignorance is not the same as the knowledge of actual experts - and neither are the marketing statements of companies happy to take advantage of that ignorance.
"While there is a lot of good that can come from untangling marketing claims by cosmetic companies and understanding which substances are harmless to the environment and human health and why, the framing of this is straight from the anti-environmentalist playbook. There is a history behind it, she's not the first to use it, and it's suspect when anyone trots it out. "There's soap in your lungs, therefore surfactants are safe!""
If basic, straightforward, science education on simple topics really is straight from the anti-environmentalist playbook, then we well and truly are fucked. Just how suspicious knowing what the fuck you're talking about and using words that actually mean things, like this article encourages, is in environmentalist communities is a big part of why it is so flailingly ineffective.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:52 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]


Sodium chloride can chew your face off? Did she mean sodium hydroxide?

I imagine you can cover your face with table salt all day (don't get it in your eyes) and do no damage. People work in salt mines do have problems, but their faces don't fall off.

On one side are the hydrophiles, which dissolve readily in water, and are highly charged

No. Hydrophiles can be either polar or charged (and they don't need to be "highly" charged). Many of the most important hydrophiles are not charged. Water is the basic hydrophilic chemical and it is not charged. Sugars are hydrophilic and uncharged.

These are such basic mistakes.

Which gets to the conceptual error of the piece. The reason for concern with carcinogens and other potentially toxic chemicals is not because they will cause "you" cancer (or other toxicity). It's because, if you expose a million people to this chemical, it will cause morbidity in several people. And cumulatively with many chemicals, that's bad news.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:58 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


"One tiny assumption can set off a chain that snowballs into a new Hell dimension of frothing bullshit."

See what she did there?

Also, she talks about Vinaigrette, and if I remember from school, aren't there different names for the different ways chemicals mix together, depending on how or whether they are bonded or just mixed. Is vinaigrette a mixture or a solution or is there a proper word for it?
posted by marienbad at 5:59 AM on April 28


That's two "understand"s, a "learn," five "ask"s and a "compare" -- just in that one paragraph

You do, of course, see where she's mocking you? Do you not see the sneering humor that compares what comes before "A more practical approach" and what comes after?

If basic, straightforward, science education on simple topics really is straight from the anti-environmentalist playbook, then we well and truly are fucked.

We well and truly are fucked. Context.

Science education is usually awesome. Usually. Science education using rhetorical devices perfected by pro-industry propaganda arms is usually less so.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:00 AM on April 28


Sodium chloride can chew your face off?

If it's moving fast enough.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:04 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


marienbad: "Is vinaigrette a mixture or a solution or is there a proper word for it?"

I think vinaigrette is an emulsion.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:16 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


That's two "understand"s, a "learn," five "ask"s and a "compare" -- just in that one paragraph

You do, of course, see where she's mocking you? Do you not see the sneering humor that compares what comes before "A more practical approach" and what comes after?


No, I genuinely don't. I see that she points out that we're not all experts in chemistry, and then I see where she encourages us to work on that -- not necessarily to become experts, but to know about the things that we may be concerned about rather than uncritically taking anyone else's word for it, even the pro-industry propaganda arm of The Toast.
posted by Etrigan at 6:25 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


If I have to hear "e-cigarettes contain antifreeze!" one more time... They contain propylene glycol, which absolutely is in antifreeze - to replace the toxic ethylene glycol. Propylene glycol is in like half the medical and cosmetic products you put in and on your body already and is pretty damn safe. But it doesn't really matter how many studies vindicating e-cigs come out, bad science is rampant and oft-repeated.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:29 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Slap*Happy: You're using arguments that have nothing to do with chemicals in food. Industrial chemicals spilling into the environment, especially when they've been insufficiently tested, can indeed be bad news. Anything that's allowed to be used in food manufacturing, however, has been extensively tested. I don't know if you know the company you're choosing to keep here, because you're basically using the same arguments as the anti-aspartame, anti-GMO, anti-MSG, anti-everything crowd here.

"Foodbabe", in particular, who started the azodicarbonamide (yoga mat chemical) hysteria, is a fearmonger who claims microwave ovens cause cancer both through the food you've prepared in them, and standing in front of them, GMOs increases the use of toxic chemicals in our environment, kill bees and are linked to cancer, allergies and autoimmune disorders in animal studies, "Artificial food dyes" cause cancer, hyperactivity, learning disorders, and are "derived from petroleum", that MSG is an "excitotoxin" and causes nerve damage, that aspartame is linked to diabetes, auto-immune disorders, depression, birth defects, and several forms of cancer, etc.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:31 AM on April 28 [12 favorites]


"No. Hydrophiles can be either polar or charged (and they don't need to be "highly" charged). Many of the most important hydrophiles are not charged. Water is the basic hydrophilic chemical and it is not charged. Sugars are hydrophilic and uncharged."
That is a pretty supremely unfair level of pedantry for a popular science piece outside of the context of a Gen Chem class. Polar molecules have local partial charges across a dipole moment, which are what is responsible for their hydrophilicity, even if they are not in the most proper sense charged. The charge of either the ion or moment in a polar molecule also does need to be strong enough to be more relevant than any London dispersion forces that may also be present, requiring it to indeed in a sense have a high charge. No it isn't a totally perfect use of the vocabulary but it is also not wrong exactly and is correct in all of the ways that matter to the article as well as in a way that adds to understanding.
"Which gets to the conceptual error of the piece. The reason for concern with carcinogens and other potentially toxic chemicals is not because they will cause "you" cancer (or other toxicity). It's because, if you expose a million people to this chemical, it will cause morbidity in several people. And cumulatively with many chemicals, that's bad news."
This is an element of toxicology that is irrelevant to the piece.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:32 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


You do, of course, see where she's mocking you? Do you not see the sneering humor that compares what comes before "A more practical approach" and what comes after?

I think you might be reading something into the piece that wasn't intended. Asking the seller, checking the research yourself, and asking a scientist all seem like completely reasonable suggestions, to me. Like much of the rest of the piece it's written in an almost aggressively cheery way, but it reads to me as if she's aiming to enthuse, not mock. Granted, I work as a scientist (although not a chemist), so it's possible that I have an atypical perspective.

RE your Penn and Teller link, I don't think that an entertainment show whose entire format is based on irately arguing that their pet peeves are "bullshit!" (i.e. not just wrong but actually stupid) is a good example of basic, straightforward, science education.

The whole "dihydrogen monoxide" thing can get decidedly smug, but it's not anti-science or anti-environmentalist. It's mocking the fear that people have of "chemicals" (vs "natural" substances), and it only works because when a chunk of the population hears a technical-sounding name they assume it must be some horrible, unnatural toxin and can be easily persuaded to call for its ban without any understanding of what it actually is or does. It's mocking terrible logic that's fuelled by an anti-scientific attitude. And on the subject of bad logic, drawing attention to the fact that many public fears around 'chemicals' are irrational is not the same thing as saying that all chemicals are safe.
posted by metaBugs at 6:43 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


"Science education is usually awesome. Usually. Science education using rhetorical devices perfected by pro-industry propaganda arms is usually less so."
This is only true from a zealot's understanding of the importance of science rather than a student's. Having run down this rabbit hole, where 'truth' becomes a tool rather than a goal, you quickly come to resemble all of the worst impulses of industry with all of their bullshit but none of their resources. When you use science like a drunk man might use a lamppost, for support rather than illumination, it quickly becomes apparent how little you can be trusted to accurately report what is around you as everything you say resembles a blurry drunken haze of things that do or do not support your crusade. The only real solution is the proper application of that lamppost, the humble search for truth and the honest communication of findings. When people have deeper understandings of science, its nomenclature, its process, and the patterns it has found, it becomes more difficult for both powerful charlatans and petty ones to peddle their shit.

Fuck zealots, we need more students and we need more teachers like this one.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:47 AM on April 28 [18 favorites]


To quote the article:

other highly charged things – common examples are water, salt, and ethanol (drinking alcohol.)

No chemist should say water or ethanol are highly charged. It is scientific miscommunication, not pedantry. Polarity and charge are very different things and act in different ways. She doesn't need to dumb this down, she needs to explain it correctly.

As for the other matter, the danger of chemicals is in those who statistically might succumb over a large population, which is the point of the susceptible rats and the higher concentration of toxic exposure which she mentions in her piece. Toxicology is a nuanced field. This piece is a disservice to it, perhaps as great a disservice as the chemophobia pieces.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:49 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Dances_with_sneetches:

Sodium and chloride can eat your face off, sodiumn chloride is benign. If you reread you'll see that's her point.
posted by argybarg at 6:50 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


Blasdelb: Cancer rats getting cancer points to exactly nothing...

Real news about a thing that gives rats cancer in ways that matter will also be backed up by other types of data from more diverse approaches and it will be a community of scientists going to journalists.

Clearly not exactly nothing then, since it can mean something in conjunction with other evidence. You are repeating the same falsehood as her: Because the 'experiment' does not provide conclusive evidence on its own, it has zero value. And that is not correct. It does not provide a conclusion, but likewise it does not have zero value; it is a point of data which could trigger other investigation, or be combined with other results. It may, indeed, be misdirection, but all such studies have some false hits, and sometimes generate misleading data. But she (and you) categorically dismiss them. If we want people to better understand science, we need them to start understanding it isn't binary for most things.

And how media treats said studies is irrelevant to the value of the study. That is something which admittedly drives me a little crazy; the writing off of anything sensationalized by the media as being flawed or useless. The media does not determine the value of science in either direction.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:18 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


This is why I'll be doing double-blinds on my kids with everything that enters our house.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:29 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


This is why I'll be doing double-blinds on my kids with everything that enters our house.
Growing up with scientist mom
posted by metaBugs at 7:40 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


"Clearly not exactly nothing then, since it can mean something in conjunction with other evidence. You are repeating the same falsehood as her: Because the 'experiment' does not provide conclusive evidence on its own, it has zero value. And that is not correct. It does not provide a conclusion, but likewise it does not have zero value; it is a point of data which could trigger other investigation, or be combined with other results. It may, indeed, be misdirection, but all such studies have some false hits, and sometimes generate misleading data. But she (and you) categorically dismiss them. If we want people to better understand science, we need them to start understanding it isn't binary for most things."
The thing you are attacking is not the point I am making.

When performed appropriately, toxicological studies in rats do have, limited and contextual, but incredibly significant and meaningful value; especially at scale. However, that value only exists in the context of well performed experiments. Because the value that studies done in rats do have is so boring, technical, and non-indicative of etiology, you will almost never hear about them in the popular press unless something has gone very wrong with the scientific process and someone is trying to bullshit you with a study that has been intentionally poorly designed.

Even flawed evidence can often be useful in limited ways, but scientific studies are not the units that truth comes in and it is really really easy for studies to have no value at all.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:40 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


"Growing up with scientist mom"
OMG metaBugs, that is amazing!

...and this one is relevant: NOW STOP ARGUING WITH MOMMY.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:44 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Okay, I'll go at this once more, and leave it at that.

While there are plenty of toxic substances that we should be well frightened of, there are also many safeguards against their use – by and large, the chemicals you encounter in your day-to-day life are benign, even the ones with the scary unpronounceable names and the ones made from substances that can literally chew your face off (sodium chloride, I’m looking at you).

This is an incredibly badly written sentence (It is one sentence). Is she saying sodium chloride is made from sodium and chloride? (I guess in some sense that might be a way to look at it, but nobody makes sodium chloride from pure sodium and pure chloride which can chew your face off). Is she saying the substances made from sodium chloride can chew your face off? I guess you could come up with a few of those. Is she saying sodium chloride can chew your face off? This is what I thought she meant. I still think it is the best grammatical parsing of the sentence.

This article makes me mad because I agree with its basic premise. People overreact to (and "natural" magazine misrepresent) chemical dangers. But "the chemicals you encounter in your day-to-day life" are not "benign." They include bleaches, ammonia, pollutants, allergens, our daily meds, etc. They need to be treated with respect. Snootily dismissing carcinogen studies (as she does) by saying they were susceptible rats fed a ton of chemicals does not promote better understanding.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:48 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Is she saying sodium chloride is made from sodium and chloride?
That's how I read it: sodium chloride as an example of a benign chemical made of stuff that'll chew your face off. How NaCl is actually manufactured in practice isn't really relevant to her point, as she's talking about people being worried about the mere presence of nasty-sounding chemicals regardless of their state/bioavailability.

It seemed obvious to me, although I agree that it could've been more carefully constructed, and I wonder how transparent it would be to someone with no chemistry background.
posted by metaBugs at 8:06 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one got bored to death reading the piece, thinking, "who the hell is afraid of soap?"
posted by univac at 8:07 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


That's like saying water is made from hydroxide ion and pure acid. It's not.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:08 AM on April 28


dances_with_sneetches: "That's like saying water is made from hydroxide ion and pure acid. It's not."

Yes, that's her point. She's saying that anti-science folks are like "did you know you breath acid and an explosive gas almost every day?"
posted by Bugbread at 8:14 AM on April 28 [14 favorites]


...which is the point that she's making, unless I'm misunderstanding you. Hearing "Sodium chloride" and thinking about a highly unstable metal and a highly toxic gas is entirely misleading, in the same way that many food/medicine addiatives are completely benign despite their scary-sounding componenets.
posted by metaBugs at 8:16 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Er, excuse me, "drink", not "breath".
posted by Bugbread at 8:23 AM on April 28


True fact: the phrase "gal scientist" helped convince me to read this. I don't take the "gal" as dismissive but more as something to be proud of. A selling point! (that worked on me!) (Target audience!)

So, thing I learned today: I now know why taking lecithin is recommended for breastfeeding women to reduce the incidence of plugged ducts. It's a surfactant!

SCIENCE!
posted by jillithd at 8:44 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


This is pretty egregiously pro-chemical industry, even as it impugns "anti-chemical lobbyists." I'll preface by saying that I'm an epidemiologist from a molecular biology background who has worked in regulatory policy on drugs and chemicals for about the last decade.

What this article has working in its favor is a general urgency toward ensuring that people can recognize the influence of marketing in scientific understanding. Sadly, the author's urgency is only pushing in one direction and generally fails to shed any light on the serious problems facing the way we (as in all of humanity) makes assessments of and decisions about chemicals in commerce. There are well over one hundred thousand synthetic chemicals in manufacturing, and that means that some amount of these chemicals are in the biosphere. The approaches we use to test these chemicals for human safety is--and this is recognized by toxicologist and regulatory authorities everywhere--woefully incomplete, lacking human relevance, expensive, time consuming, and so on. It's such a serious problem that it's fostered a paradigm shift that's given the umbrella title Tox21 (largely stemming from this National Academies/NRC publication, Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy), which was itself developed in response to the US EPA's desperate search for a better approach to handling the data needs of chemical safety regulation). In the EU, some of the most detailed and complex regulatory testing takes place via REACH; in the US, via TSCA. A bunch of other regulations try to harmonize the two and handle other categories of chemicals like pesticides.

So no, author, "unfortunately we don’t all have the time to be completely informed on every aspect of all the products we use in our day-to-day lives" is not an acceptable approach to your defense of commercial chemistry in cosmetics. Until we have a more informed approach, you are startlingly incorrect for a chemist when you assert that "by and large, the chemicals you encounter in your day-to-day life are benign."
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:36 AM on April 28 [8 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: "Anything that's allowed to be used in food manufacturing, however, has been extensively tested."

Or not. From Pew Health Initiatives (emphasis mine):

"The peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology published a paper from The Pew Charitable Trusts' food additives project examining the data used to make safety recommendations for chemicals added to food sold in the United States. The analysis of three major sources of toxicology information found significant gaps in the data for chemicals that are added to food and food packaging.

Pew’s analysis reveals:
  • The Food and Drug Administration or industry decided that almost two-thirds of known additives were safe without having fed the additives to lab animals. This is based on Pew’s analysis of data reported in FDA, National Institutes of Health, or other leading toxicology databases.
  • FDA’s own database on chemicals added directly to food indicates that:
    • Only one in five chemicals has been evaluated using the simplest lab animal test recommended by FDA to evaluate safety.
    • Only one in eight chemicals that FDA recommended be evaluated for reproductive or development problems had evidence it was tested for these effects.

  • The lack of data means that often we don’t know whether these chemicals pose a health risk to the hundreds of millions of Americans who eat food with untested chemical additives."

posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:57 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


"Or not. From Pew Health Initiatives (emphasis mine)"
That is a pretty aggressive characterization of the GRAS status.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:15 AM on April 28


It's an example of why a simple-minded application of the precautionary principle is not the be all and end all of toxicology (and risk management).
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on April 28


"This is pretty egregiously pro-chemical industry, even as it impugns "anti-chemical lobbyists." I'll preface by saying that I'm an epidemiologist from a molecular biology background who has worked in regulatory policy on drugs and chemicals for about the last decade."
Then you should know better than any of us the dramatically epic failure of "anti-chemical lobbyists" to inform the public in meaningful ways about the genuinely terrifying unknowns addressed in sober but apparently boring ways by Tox21, how most of the controversies about specific chemicals stem from the absurd yet profitable ways in which the chemical industry extracts additional revenue out of price insensitive consumers by focusing attention on harmless compounds that proprietary or intensive alternatives can be found for, and just the gaping absence of basic scientific literacy that dominates the national and global conversation. The real, subtle, and statistically counter-intuitive dangers that almost certainly do lie in the 10k compounds that Tox21 plans to test are so dramatically unrelated to the cottage industry that has built up around convincing people to buy more expensive shampoo or whatever because of the latest fad paranoia its ridiculous. We can't set up a GC-MS paired with a 10 million dollar robot and chemical library in everyone's home to carefully annotate the contents of every grocery bag, but we can spread the basic scientific literacy necessary to make the next MSG, paraben, BPA, or Séralini bullshit get less traction.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:31 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


This article had some pretty cool explanations in it but I too got a bias vibe out of it. The message seems to be mixed. Ask questions, talk to scientists, etc. ... but generally chemicals are safe, natural alternatives are woo, etc. It's way more complicated than that. Yes, poorly regulated "natural" diet supplements and other "natural" alternatives to mainstream products have become big business and lots of people have a reflexive general fear of "chemicals". Woo is rife - even worse, it's woo for money.

On the other hand, industry has a crappy track record when it comes to self-regulating and giving consumers straight information about chemicals. I sure as hell don't trust a group like the American Chemistry Council to science its way out of a paper bag. Good science requires a lack of vested interests. You have to be willing to discover and forthrightly tackle problems regardless of cost or what it may mean to the bottom line of a certain industry. See leaded gas (recently discussed on Cosmos), for example. Or antibiotic products. Or the micro-beads in toothpastes and facial scrubs. Or a million other things.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:08 AM on April 28


We can't set up a GC-MS paired with a 10 million dollar robot and chemical library in everyone's home to carefully annotate the contents of every grocery bag

You can, in fact. It looks like this. Tox21 and REACH research are the major portion of what feeds the EWG's dataset. A GC/MSD+robot is roughly a quarter million, btw.

There are huge problems related to science education, one of the largest being communication of a very complicated subject like environmental and human toxicology and the risk management decisions. It's simply not possible to reach everyone; many reject even excellent efforts like the EWG presentation out of hand as too complicated. Your question asks: is it worth doing this sort of thing at all?

The major problem with a nuanced approach is the insistence on good/bad, safe/toxic binaries in the mainstream media. A chemical must be either safe or toxic. Risk is, of course, not just multi-factored on the toxicology side, but exposure and dose dependant as well. communicating that single idea, that chemical risks are dependent on use and exposure, have proven too much for soundbites. Trying to do this in a TV interview is really, really hard, especially where there are interests with opposing messages.

Look at the climate change or vaccination "debates", for example. Scientifically, both are about a certain as anything can be, yet there is still there is controversy and confusion. Over an emerging concern where the science is new and not well reviewed like BPA? Forget it. How long have we be talking about aluminum and Alzheimer's disease?
posted by bonehead at 11:18 AM on April 28


"You can, in fact. It looks like this. Tox21 and REACH research are the major portion of what feeds the EWG's dataset. A GC/MSD+robot is roughly a quarter million, btw."
You had me all excited, but looking through that link there is a lot of stuff there that is at best really hard to take seriously.

...and it looks like I'm not alone,
Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels J. Toxicol
Probabilistic techniques were used to characterize dietary exposure of consumers to pesticides found in twelve commodities implicated as having the greatest potential for pesticide residue contamination by a United States-based environmental advocacy group. Estimates of exposures were derived for the ten most frequently detected pesticide residues on each of the twelve commodities based upon residue findings from the United States Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program. All pesticide exposure estimates were well below established chronic reference doses (RfDs). Only one of the 120 exposure estimates exceeded 1% of the RfD (methamidophos on bell peppers at 2% of the RfD), and only seven exposure estimates (5.8 percent) exceeded 0.1% of the RfD. Three quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations demonstrated exposure estimates below 0.01% of the RfD (corresponding to exposures one million times below chronic No Observable Adverse Effect Levels from animal toxicology studies), and 40.8% had exposure estimates below 0.001% of the RfD. It is concluded that (1) exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities pose negligible risks to consumers, (2) substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks, and (3) the methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:48 AM on April 28


dances_with_sneetches: " nobody makes sodium chloride from pure sodium and pure chloride which can chew your face off"

Does anybody actually make sodium chloride? I would have guessed it is entirely sourced from mining and desalinization.
posted by Mitheral at 11:54 AM on April 28


I suspect that it is also an industrial by-product of other reactions that use sodium or chloride ions.
posted by maryr at 11:57 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


(Much like water)
posted by maryr at 11:57 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


It's because, if you expose a million people to this chemical, it will cause morbidity in several people. And cumulatively with many chemicals, that's bad news.

Also, isn't this true of like, oxygen?
posted by maryr at 11:58 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


Like Oxygen or Actual Oxygen? Like Oxygen?
posted by marienbad at 12:00 PM on April 28


To me, the problem with this article can be summed up as follows:

She tells you that it turns out that fluorosurfactants are actually bad for you and the environment (despite many years of assurances from the producers of said chemicals that they weren't).

Then, she tells you that you shouldn't worry about things that haven't been conclusively proven as bad for you, even if they haven't been proven safe (I think this is what someone further up thread meant when they said she asks you to "trust").

I think a very large number of reasonable people believe that, when it comes to our health and the environment, it should be the other way around. You want to put some new chemical concoction you made in a lab in my food, the water, or my shampoo? It had better be proven, over and over, as thoroughly as possible, by multiple independent parties, that it is NOT harmful. Otherwise, I'm not interested.
posted by nzero at 12:08 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


EWG is one of the best NGO databases out there that's not complete pablum. It's always been their position to strongly apply the precautionary principle, and yes, that's always been the criticism of their products. Their response to the particular criticism of over-caution is that emerging threats, like the recent focus on endocrine disruptors like BPA, or discovery of high toxicity in brominated fire retardants, need to be reported even at below NOEL or LOEL, because those numbers might change in the future. While you may not buy their risk assessments (and I don't always either), they are honest about why they do what they do and transparent enough for third party re-analysis, at least. They're not trying to be sensationalists about it.

Scorecard.org tried to do a similar job for location-based reporting of environmental burden, but I don't think they've been updated for more than 10 years.

Doing even the effort EWG does is very expensive and takes legions of people. Never mind that every labelling and certification is fought tooth and nail by industry, I think mostly because they don't want to pay for it either.
posted by bonehead at 12:23 PM on April 28


Consistent opposition to scientific consensus aside, I can't imagine how many graphic designers were needed to produce this nonsense with its elaborate rituals that YOU TOO can use to ward off tiger attacks.

They do also seem to take the more sensationalized and fact-free approach to discussing the weird rabbit hole of endocrine disruptors, for example the potential toxicity of BPA in commercially relevant exposure levels was always unlikely but vaguely scary-ish before the excretion pathway was figured out, but it has been pretty absurd for a long time now. Our bodies rapidly and effectively convert BPA into BPA-monoglucuronide, which is both inactive and rapidly excreted. This means that all of the researchers who applied BPA to their various small model systems, from DNA methylation to obesity to thyroid function, were using dramatically non-relevant amounts. Indeed, this is one of those few cases where criticisms of scientists not studying the whole system man are actually relevant.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:05 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


This is pretty egregiously pro-chemical industry

Being anti-nutball is not the same thing as pro-industry.

These are exactly the sorts of non-issues that distract people from the real, horrific issues that abound within the chemical industry. In fact, if I were caught polluting the hell out of a major waterway, the very first thing I'd do is leak some half-baked conspiracy theory about an easily-replaced compound, then sell "Compound X-free" versions at a markup. God knows what plasticizers are in some of those BPA-free water bottles; quite possibly something that actually does have a chance of messing you up.

This is exactly the point being made in the article, for anybody who actually bothered to read it. Most surfactants are totally freaking harmless. Some aren't. We should be concerned about the potentially bad ones, but freaking out because "XXX compound is basically soap" is actively counterproductive to intelligent discourse on the value of a particular compound.

We are all going to have to make trade-offs at some point; I have multiple chemistry degrees and still couldn't research all the implications of everything I'm exposed to in an average day. So the useful discussion is about what the hurdles for inclusion should be, who is doing the regulating, and how the regulation is done. Which is...exactly the point of the article. Useful discussion, not baseless, poorly-informed fear.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:19 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


You want to put some new chemical concoction you made in a lab in my food, the water, or my shampoo?

That's the trouble, isn't it? How do you know which chemicals are new and which are just the scary-sounding names for things like baking soda that have been in use for hundreds of years? Or, for that matter, how do you know that just because baking soda has been used for hundreds of years that it's actually safe? Historically, people have been perfectly willing to cook with lead or ingest mercury, so it seems like tradition is a pretty unreliable indicator of safety.
posted by Pyry at 1:25 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


How do you know which chemicals are new and which are just the scary-sounding names for things like baking soda that have been in use for hundreds of years?

...Google? Fooducate? Any number of resources that are for *exactly that*.

Or, for that matter, how do you know that just because baking soda has been used for hundreds of years that it's actually safe? Historically, people have been perfectly willing to cook with lead or ingest mercury, so it seems like tradition is a pretty unreliable indicator of safety.

Being in use for hundreds of years is a pretty good start. Collecting information over time about things is another. If there isn't an extremely pressing reason to do so, why add risk by putting random XYZ chemical into something that was already just fine? (the extremely obvious answer is, of course, to increase profit margins...)

We are all going to have to make trade-offs at some point; I have multiple chemistry degrees and still couldn't research all the implications of everything I'm exposed to in an average day.

This is the point, we shouldn't have to be researching so many things, because there is not a compelling reason to be exposed to a bunch of random chemicals (except for profit motive) that may or may not be harmful.

Are you guys seriously arguing that you're just fine with corporations putting whatever the chemical of the week is over at Dupont labs or wherever into anything they want, just because they haven't been particularly shown to be harmful (if you're not arguing this, I apologize in advance, but that's how it comes across to me)? That boggles my mind.
posted by nzero at 2:08 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


This is an incredibly badly written sentence (It is one sentence). Is she saying sodium chloride is made from sodium and chloride? (I guess in some sense that might be a way to look at it, but nobody makes sodium chloride from pure sodium and pure chloride which can chew your face off). Is she saying the substances made from sodium chloride can chew your face off? I guess you could come up with a few of those. Is she saying sodium chloride can chew your face off? This is what I thought she meant. I still think it is the best grammatical parsing of the sentence.

SHE MEANS SODIUM AND CHLORINE

THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT
posted by Sebmojo at 2:36 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]


nzero: "Are you guys seriously arguing that you're just fine with corporations putting whatever the chemical of the week is over at Dupont labs or wherever into anything they want, just because they haven't been particularly shown to be harmful (if you're not arguing this, I apologize in advance, but that's how it comes across to me)? That boggles my mind."
I don't think that anyone is arguing this exactly, but there should be at least some reason to think that something could even plausibly be potentially harmful, and genuine novelty would certainly count. Many if not most 'new' chemicals in consumable products are not really new in a sense that would be meaningful to safety though. For example, a new chemical ingredient that might more accurately be described as an extraction from a slightly different fraction of yeast so as to favor whatever in order to more accurately add it to products using a process we already know is safe and in a familiar concentration doesn't really have any business going through the whole process when industrial quality yeast is so conspicuously safe.

Really there are actually very few compounds used in food that are made in a truly synthetic way, doing serious chemistry is expensive to do in a consistent way that doesn't involve any steps that could even conceivably be dangerous, generally gets shitty yields, gets really messy, and needs people who really know what they're doing. Food chemists don't get to do pretty much anything fun or anything conveniently. For the most part the chemicals added to our food are farmed, mined, fermented from microbes, extracted from all sorts of things (some inherently very safe, some not necessarily out of an appropriate context), or distilled - not synthesized. Almost all of the advancements in food science over the last hundred years of ridiculous innovation have nothing to with novel additives exactly and everything to do with either improved infrastructure, understanding old techniques and ingredients in deeper ways that allow us to use them to greater benefit, or advances in industrial design that allow us to make things more consistently and safely. Not very many of the big long chemicals you find on labels are really all that new at all, just better understood and more precisely used.

When those old things get newer better names, or get used in more accurate isolation, so as to use them in more accurate ways they become the new chemical of the week over at Dupont labs or wherever, but in a fundamentally different way than something truly new that came out of a reaction flask. Of course old things can be dangerous too and are worth a lot of caution, but the GRAS designation is basically just a formal examined way for common sense and critical thinking to enter the picture before the whole extended process starts.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:09 PM on April 28


...Google? Fooducate? Any number of resources that are for *exactly that*.

So I guess we agree (and agree with the article's author) that the solution is to learn a bit about chemistry and do some research rather than relying on weird tricks and hunches to determine which ingredients are safe?
posted by Pyry at 3:12 PM on April 28


This is the point, we shouldn't have to be researching so many things, because there is not a compelling reason to be exposed to a bunch of random chemicals (except for profit motive) that may or may not be harmful.

Sure there is. I like homemade bread. I like the bread that I get from the bakery down the street that has nothing but yeast, flour, salt, and any special nuts or spices. I also like that I can buy a loaf of bread that stays soft and squishy all week.

I like that I can make a batch of waffles in the morning without having to wait for yeast to rise (use sodium hydrogen carbonate instead), or if I don't have buttermilk, without even using any acid (it also comes with monocalcium phosphate mixed in).

As a vegetarian, I like that I can buy cheeses made with artificial rennet, instead of a freaking calf stomach.

As a northerner who doesn't like rickets, I really like that I can buy milk with Cholecalciferol mixed in.

You're arguing a strawman. Nobody is suggesting every new compound belongs in food or that there should be no oversight or regulation. But eliminating anything that sounds squidgy or that might be harmful in unfathomable quantities is not realistic, nor even an ideal we should aspire to. There is no such thing as "chemical free". Your kidney beans are naturally full of toxins that need to be cooked to deactivate them. Today's "traditional Irish soda bread" was the "bunch of random chemicals put in for profit motive" of less than two centuries ago.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:49 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


You want to put some new chemical concoction you made in a lab in my food, the water, or my shampoo?

Actually, I want to put all sorts of newly optimized enzymes into your food and shampoo (and laundry detergent and dish soap and makeup and pharmaceudicals and industrial processes and gas tank and...). How do you feel about GMOs? Better or worse than chemicals?
posted by maryr at 5:34 PM on April 28


So I guess we agree (and agree with the article's author) that the solution is to learn a bit about chemistry and do some research rather than relying on weird tricks and hunches to determine which ingredients are safe?

I agree with your statement, yes, but I also feel like we (consumers) are in a war with big corporations who want our $$$ and don't give a damn about the consequences to our health or the environment of XYZ chemical added to food/water/whatever, as long as it makes it taste good and look fresh. I think the number of examples of this are plenty, where a corporation claimed something was safe, and then it turned out not to be safe, and either the corporation deliberately hid the information, or had paid the researchers to come to the conclusions they wanted.

How do you feel about GMOs? Better or worse than chemicals?

:-/ I don't have a problem with "chemicals." There are plenty of chemicals that are non-toxic and non-harmful at known levels in known combinations etc. There are also plenty that aren't. Many of which are in food. (Food dye, anyone?)

My opinion on GMOs is that they are largely un-tested and that there is disturbing evidence that this is already leading to unintended consequences. I don't think that eating them is directly harmful, although I certainly wouldn't claim that it wasn't, either. Personally, I would like items that contain GMOs to be clearly labelled so I can avoid buying them (this position is more based on the well known, well published evil tactics used by the leading purveyor of GMOs, Monsanto, than anything in particular about the food containing GMO ingredients).

But eliminating anything that sounds squidgy or that might be harmful in unfathomable quantities is not realistic, nor even an ideal we should aspire to.

I agree with this statement, but I don't think that's the full extent of what's being argued. "Sounding squidgy" is certainly not my criteria for avoiding additives. It's more like, "shows up as toxic in studies not performed by corporations."
posted by nzero at 7:07 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Hairy Lobster: "The Food and Drug Administration or industry decided that almost two-thirds of known additives were safe without having fed the additives to lab animals. This is based on Pew’s analysis of data reported in FDA, National Institutes of Health, or other leading toxicology databases."

This is because these additives are GRAS, or generally recognized as safe. This, in turn, is because they've been tested extensively for many decades; on people, in food. They're basically grandfathered in old additives that we've observed no negative effects of for the many decades they've been in widespread use.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:24 PM on April 28


nzero: "It's more like, "shows up as toxic in studies not performed by corporations.""

Please cite the studies that shows food dyes, as you mention, are toxic.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:29 PM on April 28


NIH review from 2012
posted by nzero at 7:43 PM on April 28


Did you folks turn this thread into a paradigmatic example of what's wrong with science communication and the policy environment just to prove her point?

We've got syntax quibbles, irrelevant/unproveable claims to expertise, random debunked studies being cited, goal-post-moving, conspiracy theories, a hyperbolic version of the precautionary principle, the whole gamut!
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:56 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


:-P
posted by nzero at 7:57 PM on April 28


nzero: That review seems strange, it brings up a number of concepts that have been thoroughly tested and shown to be incorrect as far back as the 1980s, for instance, Red #3 was suspected of being carcinogenic and , which lead to a partial ban, but this rather thorough study seems to totally exclude the possibility of it being mutagenic, and the partial ban was lifted.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:09 PM on April 28


It's also a bit strange that the study finds that basically all food dyes are toxic. You'd think there'd be at least a couple that are not.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:16 PM on April 28


By the way, Monsanto is probably not particularly more evil than any other large corporation. A lot of the things they have been accused of are simply not true. The RationalWiki page on Monsanto is a good starting point, and I generally recommend RationalWiki for some balance in these issues.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:28 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Here's another one.

And another. And there are many more papers cited in those papers.

You asked me to cite studies and I did. You can argue that those studies were all flawed and there's really really nothing wrong with the dye, or that the balance of the studies found a negative correlation (forgetting for the moment that most of those were paid for by industry), but don't act like there are not grounds for a reasonable person to conclude that there might be more to it, when there are dozens of studies saying yes, various food dyes do cause cancer/are toxic.

You'd think there'd be at least a couple that are not.

I wouldn't, actually, but I'm perhaps more cynical about it than others here.

By the way, Monsanto is probably not particularly more evil than any other large corporation.

I have heard first hand accounts about how evil they are. Most large corporations are evil. That's just what happens when you take human conscience and legal responsibility out of business.
posted by nzero at 10:18 PM on April 28




Organic Cane Sugar, Now Certified Carbon-Free!

I'd love it if that was actually just a bottle of carbon free sugar. (Or water, as we like to call it)
posted by ambrosen at 4:49 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


nzero: "Here's another one

And another. And there are many more papers cited in those papers.
"

That first one is actually the same one you posted earlier. Well, it's a Center for Science in the Public Interest version of the same one, but it's the same paper by the same authors.

The second one is pretty old, from 1978, and actually finds that "None of the non-transforming dyes (Blue 1, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6) or Green 3 induced a significant increase in tumor (mostly lymphoma) incidence or animal mortality. Three of the transforming dyes (Blue 2, Green 2024, Red 4) did increase tumor incidence and/or mortality in at least one strain of hamster."

Which is much more in line with what I'd expect. If you sit down to analyze a widely varying group of compounds not related by chemical characteristics, but by area of use, because you suspect some of them might be harmful, you'd expect to find that, at most, some of them are harmful and some are not. I'm skeptical of a paper that finds that absolutely all of the food dyes they looked at are harmful, in the same way (causing cancer), because while they're all food dyes, they have basically nothing in common chemically, and it seems a little convenient.

The second study seems more solid, and as I said, that kind of thing is what lead to Red #3 being partially banned, up until things like the later study I cited clearing it, and the ban being lifted.

This is how science works, people do studies, some of them showing some things, some of them other things, then people come up with other ways to test the same thing. "Dozens" of studies showing one thing doesn't really mean much, if you're purposefully trying to cherry-pick studies to support your position. What's important is the scientific consensus, which admittedly can often be hard for a layman to get a good handle on, but it's usually decently reflected in the stance of regulatory agencies (with a bit of a time delay, at least).

It's like anthropogenic global warming. There are "dozens" of studies disproving that too, but the scientific consensus is that it's real.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:37 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]




The common person on the street does not know/understand enough chemistry to put in the research or draw the conclusions she expects ( "Ask multiple scientists and watch them battle to help you understand. (I guess what I’m trying to say is, be my friend! I’m useful, sometimes!) Then compare the answers, and see which ones fit together to give a plausible explanation."). Really, it comes down to the layperson deciding which explanation is more plausible? Instead, what would be nice is that we have an FDA/USDA/EPA that we can trust... but instead we get shenanigans like this.
posted by asra at 1:33 PM on April 29


Now here’s one that’s actually scary. Lots of delightfully slippery, everything-repellent stuff (Teflon, Scotchgard) is made of fluorosurfactants, which are the same as regular surfactants, except for the replacement of hydrogen atoms with fluorine atom [...] they’re likely to be pretty damn bad for your kidneys, lungs, reproductive system, endocrine system, and so on.

So, is she basically saying stay away from all nonstick cookware? What's the story with that--safe or not?
posted by mono blanco at 8:16 PM on April 29


SMBC is weighs in.
posted by maryr at 11:41 AM on April 30


So, is she basically saying stay away from all nonstick cookware? What's the story with that--safe or not?

Don't know. Products like that are tested for their safety, but usually only in manufacture. That is: the US wants to be sure that the people making them are not endangered by the production. The fact that you're going to *wear* that shirt with nano-silver in it doesn't appear to trouble anyone enough to justify further testing. Probably it's safe, right? A lot of people have been doing it for a while now.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:26 AM on May 1


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