Tuesday, 18 September 2018


May contain sugar.
A couple of years ago, I was standing in a queue, waiting to pay for the lunch I had just bought from a shop at some English Heritage site I was visiting with Mrs Grump. The woman in front of me was complaining bitterly about the cartons of fruit juice; she was looking down the list of ingredients on the side of the boxes and was unhappy that they all seemed to contain sugar.

"Of course they contain sugar you idiot, it's fruit juice: where do you think sugar comes from? All living material contains sugar, plant and animal; if it didn't it wouldn't work". I didn't say; I must have been in a good mood that day.

This incident leads me on to the appalling level of scientific illiteracy among the general public. Ignorance makes you vulnerable: vulnerable to those who would exploit that ignorance for their own ends.

One popular area of exploitation is in the so-called "alternative food/medicine/whatever" racket. Purveyors of this nonsense will use the fact that you don't know your acid from your carbohydrate in order  to sell you some product with improbable qualities such as an ability to cure cancer with a fruit berry/cannabis/psychic chocolate, etc. 

On a stall in a local craft market there was someone selling something they call Himalayan Pink Salt which, among other unlikely things can reduce your blood pressure. Yes folks, never mind that the entire medical profession constantly warns about excessive salt in your diet and how this can lead to high blood pressure among other things; Himalayan Salt is "magic" so this rule doesn't apply.

Organic food producers warn constantly about "chemicals" that are used in conventional farming despite them having been proved safe to eat, without mentioning the chemicals they use, many of which are highly toxic indeed. Copper Sulphate is one example.

Another group of people who like to exploit public ignorance do so for entirely different reasons and you will often see articles on the internet which offer dire warnings about things which are, in most cases are completely harmless but can be made to seem otherwise. 

Probably the most widely distributed and well known of these is the Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax. Its creators have been campaigning for many years to get the substance banned in food production, citing just how dangerous it is. They even have their own website DHMO.ORG where they warn that 

"Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is a colorless and odorless chemical compound, also referred to by some as Dihydrogen Oxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydronium Hydroxide, or simply Hydric acid. Its basis is the highly reactive hydroxyl radical, a species shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, disrupt cell membranes, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters. The atomic components of DHMO are found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds such as Sulfuric Acid, Nitroglycerine and Ethyl Alcohol."

They go on to warn that 

"Each year, Dihydrogen Monoxide is a known causative component in many thousands of deaths and is a major contributor to millions upon millions of dollars in damage to property and the environment. Some of the known perils of Dihydrogen Monoxide are:
  • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.
  • Prolonged exposure to solid DHMO causes severe tissue damage.
  • Excessive ingestion produces a number of unpleasant though not typically life-threatening side-effects.
  • DHMO is a major component of acid rain.
  • Gaseous DHMO can cause severe burns.
  • Contributes to soil erosion.
  • Leads to corrosion and oxidation of many metals.
  • Contamination of electrical systems often causes short-circuits.
  • Exposure decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Found in biopsies of pre-cancerous tumors and lesions.
  • Given to vicious dogs involved in recent deadly attacks.
  • Often associated with killer cyclones in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and in hurricanes including deadly storms in Florida, New Orleans and other areas of the southeastern U.S.
  • Thermal variations in DHMO are a suspected contributor to the El Nino weather effect."

Any child having a first world education and who is aged over ten years should know that Dihydrogen Monoxide, or H2O as it's usually called is nothing more than water. Having said that, all the claims made about the dangers of the stuff are absolutely true and without any form of critical examination of the claims made can result in the public fear of something we cannot live without.

This particular hoax doesn't actually have any malicious intent but is intended to show how easy it is to fool people and can therefor be considered more as an educational tool. In 1997, a 14 year old American science student Nathan Zohner, handed out a convincing paper arguing for the banning of DHMO which was supported by most of his fellow students. You can read more about this story here

Since its inception, it has grown into a major industry with its own web site. It has even managed to spawn a counter movement called the "Friends of Hydrogen Hydroxide". The claims made on this site are not to be trusted however as they obviously have financial connections with the DHMO industry.

Elsewhere, in a Hysterical article in the Daily Express (where else) they manage to take time off from warning us about migrants to tell us of a hidden danger hidden in our apples.

The headline warns of a "shocking video" which reveals the truth about wax which is coating our apples and asks just how dangerous is it.

If anyone actually reads beyond the headline and the video, they will see that the wax is produced by the apple itself and is actually beneficial as it prevents bacterial infection. Some producers supplement this wax with an extra coating to protect it in storage but this is made from natural sources and is harmless. Wax, you will learn if you enquire further, cannot be processed by the human digestive system so passes straight through. Whether that makes your (now wax coated) turds easier to pass, I haven't managed to learn.

I don't know if the waxy apple hoax is supposed to be educational or a straightforward bit of malicious scare mongering by a tabloid rag to sell more copies, I also haven't managed to learn.

If you really do want to learn more about fruit and wax then click on this link to an excellent article here.

This is a link to the Express scare story as well if you want to read it for yourself.

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