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July 29, 2002

In Defense of Chemistry

by Tom Linehan, Quality Spraying, Providence, RI

Readers would do a fine service for their college-age kids by giving them copies of Les Flott's "Chemistry for Nonchemists --Part III: In Defense of Chemistry" from the July, '02 issue of Metal Finishing magazine.

He treats six "misconceptions" paraphrased from an article originally written by Bruce Ames, Chair of the Biochemistry Dept. at Univ. of Cal. at Berkeley. Simply, clearly, and briefly, it helps immunize against much of the politically correct but scientifically false nonsense so prevalent today.

For example, we are told that cancer rates are increasing because of pollution. Cancer rates are increasing among the aged because cancer is a disease of the old and we are living longer. Age-adjusted rates of cancer incidence are steady or declining. And, there is the idea that people are exposed to carcinogens because of synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides. Studies show most pesticides in food are natural, produced by the plants to protect themselves. He writes: "Americans eat an estimated 1500 mg of natural pesticides per person each day, which is 10,000 times more than they consume of synthetic pesticide residues (<0.2 mg)".

This article can help teach some of our young people to view bogeyman generalizations skeptically. Swallowing whole the pieties of the age may make it easier to get along with one's friends, but that is a poor substitute for starting a lifelong habit of thinking critically and being true to yourself. --TL

August 5, 2002

The Language of Chemistry?

by Alan Phillipson, Materials Science & Technology Consulting, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Reading "In Defense of Chemistry" by Tom Linehan prompts me to comment on daily language involving or appearing to involve chemistry.

We hear of the chemistry of relationships more than ever. Are these relationships between chemists? "If the chemistry is right" we'll invest in such and such. Is chemistry being blamed for everything?

We do not talk about carbon monoxide, water etc. anymore. We hear the molecular makeup instead, or some abbreviations. Our society is becoming so fixed on the use of "non-words" that eventually no-one will be communicating.--AP

August 12, 2002

Critical thought isn't easy, that is what should be taught

by Tom Pullizzi,

Hi Tom,

My first critical thought about the quote on natural pesticides is:

1.5 grams of natural pesticides is probably wrong. Sometimes I don't eat 1.5 grams of fresh vegetables in a day, which brings up my next thought:

When the New Jersey Meadowlands Commision was trying to determine the cause of the cancer cluster of football players of the home teams a few years back, they were taking samples of the turf, looking for pesticides. A friend of mine thought that this was hilarious, and he was correct. He said "These guys take steroids long term, they weigh 300 pounds, they eat a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs for breakfast, and they are looking for residual pesticides as a cause for their cancer". My point being that our diets are so full of processed food, even 'normal' people don't eat a good enough diet to be grouped as a control.

My third thought, even if the 1.5 grams is correct, is, unless we know the relative carcinogenicity of 1500 mg of natural pesticides vs. the 0.2 ppm of residuals, we still haven't got anything.

Comparing natural pesticides to synthetic pesticides is like comparing the destruction of the environment by native americans to that caused by the industrial revolution. --TJP

August 12, 2002

Not easy? Not even possible
by Ted Mooney,

I tend to not side with the metal finishing establishment on environmental issues, believing that despite any good intentions, good science will not be conducted by people with a vested interest in poor science.

On the other hand, having tried to be a good parent, I attended countless "back to school nights" and "science project nights" throughout my two sons' educational careers. And from the first day of kindergarden they were programmed by their teachers to draw factory smokestacks with billowing black clouds and waste lines running into streams full of dead fish. While unindustrialized peoples like the Native Americans are continuously and uncritically glorified, industry is mindlessly demonized in most school systems every day of the week.

So, while I remain largely unconvinced by the article, Tom Linehan and Les Flott are absolutely correct that it is very important that people at least be exposed to hearing Bruce Ames' side of the issues. --TM

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