Chemical romance

Chemical romance

Chemical romance

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Dec. 3 2008 2:30 PM

Chemical romance

One thing that bugs me is the appropriation of scientific words by people who twist them for their own ends. One that really gets me is "natural", as in, "This product is all natural!". They imply that means it's good for you, somehow, but I counter that arsenic is an element. You can't get more natural than that!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Another is the word "chemical". People use it like it's bad. Chemicals kill! We associate them with toxic and noxious substances, cleansers, nasty things added to our food that makes us sick.


But the word means nothing of the sort. Water is a chemical. So is the air we breathe (the components are, at least, including diatomic oxygen and nitrogen).

It's time to take the word back! Neville Reed, a director of Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, has said he would happily give one million pounds to anyone who can produce a substance that is 100% chemical-free.

This is impossible, of course, and he said it to publicize misleading advertising like I pointed out above. He got fed up when the advertising standards in the UK defended a ridiculous ad saying Miracle Gro, a chemical fertilizer, was "100 per cent chemical-free".

That would mean it's not made of matter. Of course, the company says there is a colloquial meaning to the word "chemical", which is true, but they're being weasels. Obviously there are chemicals in the fertilizer, even by the traditional or colloquial sense (Apple recently said something similar: don't believe what we say in our ads).

I think the RSC should make this offer official. Of course, they'd be flooded with nonsense and woo-woo; people claiming they have bottled Dark Energy or the ether or some other phlogiston. That's inevitable.

But it would also raise peoples' awareness that the advertising industry dupes them constantly. I'd love to see more folks understanding this. It's not just products like fertilizer either: it's political ads, public service announcements, the news, and pretty much everything else you can see on TV or read in a magazine. Even some blogs indulge in misleading statements to sway people -- OMG!

A little skepticism goes a long way. And that is guaranteed 100% chemical free.