Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Agh! Chemicals!

Oh, no! The Chemicals are Here!

This is the sort of analysis that led Arthur Benjamin to give a TED talk to tell us that mathematical education ought to focus more on statistics than calculus, as statistics is far more useful in everyday life.

First off, you're ignorant if you want to rid your life of "chemicals".

When blood tests showed your body's chemical load was relatively low, did you feel any better?
It wasn't low. There was a presence of chemicals that everybody has but are there acceptable levels? Frankly, I don't think so.

A presence of chemicals, huh? Like hemoglobin? Vitamin C? Vitamin D? Zinc? Calcium? How about water? Was there any dihydrogen monoxide? You know how dangerous that stuff is. It causes asphyxiation and has been used to torture people for centuries.

But it's not just the ignorance of what the word "chemical" means. It's also statements like these:

If I use any shampoo or soap on my daughter, I buy them at the health-food store and the less ingredients, the better.

Really? I believe that Ivory advertises itself and 99.44% pure. No additives. No scents. How would your health-food store match up to that?

Today we have the highest rate of childhood cancer, unprecedented levels of autism and asthma, food allergies, skin allergies – all these sensitivities that are clearly related to environmental conditions. And this idea that past generations lived in surroundings that were chemically toxic and they survived is also quite false. One in three die of cancer.

This is a really long chunk of confusion.

Cancer rates for children are not rising. They've been relatively stable for the last 25 years.

The reason you see high levels of autism is because we've been changing the definition of autism to include more people. In a bygone era, most of these people were just referred to as "retarded" and left at that. As well, there's the term "autism spectrum disorder" which refers to a wide variety of minor social problems. As much as some want to blame the "growth in autism" on vaccines and other nonsense, the biggest cause is our widening definition and better diagnostic methods.

If you want to talk about food allergies, you have to wonder how many children simply died because of peanut allergies in the old days. Now that our infant mortality rate has dropped so severely, there are more people with allergies.

And it was way, way more toxic in the old days. There were no workplace safety rules. People died of cancer from breathing in horrible quality air in all sorts of mines and factories. There was almost no pollution control on cars. Paint was made out of lead (the article mentions this and fails to note the contradiction to her own premise). Buildings were made out of asbestos.

Finally, of course more people are dying of cancer. Everyone has to die of something and once we've fixed everything else, the last few things left are going to become bigger threats. This is the fault of improvements in medicine, not chemicals in the environment.

I read articles like this, these compilations of ignorance, and I have to wonder what people are taking away from it. Am I going to end up with people trying to outlaws vaccines? Enforce circumcisions? Outlaw fluoridated water again?

Yes, there are concerns about certain chemicals. Yes, we have to perform scientific studies to figure out which ones are real problems and which of these claims is nonsense. But articles written by a clearly ignorant person who wants you to read other ignorant things on the web and then "go back to your own spine" for guidance, are worthless.

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