Monday, June 22, 2015

Why Sci?

There are really good reasons to teach young folks a bit of science.  Obviously it can be useful in careers and such, but it can also be an inoculation against some of the more ludicrous nonsense out there in the world.  Recently I found out about The Food Babe, an internet celebrity who doles out advice on all kinds of health and food issues.  She has some real difficulties with facts and definitions, particularly when it comes to air travel.  Hint:  She thinks that breathing nitrogen is dangerous, even though nitrogen makes up the majority of the atmosphere on Earth.

One of her most common and most dangerous messages is that people need to avoid having chemicals in their food.  This is such a problem because so many people don't know that the word chemicals is almost meaningless because it can refer to pretty near anything.  Dihydrogen oxide is a chemical after all, and it is in nearly everything, even the air around us!  Hint:  Water = H2O.

The Food Babe is especially egregious in her use of sciency terms to try to sell people on her brand and on products she endorses but obviously she isn't alone.  Her success relies in large part on the profound ignorance many people have surrounding scientific terms and methods.  When the population doesn't know that 'chemicals' isn't a thing, when they think that 'quantum' is pretty much science code for 'magic', and when they believe that scientists are some kind of monolithic group out to keep the truth away from ordinary people we are in serious trouble and charlatans like The Food Babe can make a fortune by making up complete garbage and convincing others to swallow it.

GMOs are one of the things she talks about in particular and in so doing she illustrates another common fallacy - the idea of 'natural'.  There are problems with GMOs but they are almost universally problems of ownership and corruption rather than health problems.  The thing is, if you think that GMO foods are somehow inherently dangerous and natural foods are not because you have an image of a crazed mad scientist mixing up poisons in a lab vs. a big smiling Gaia making delicious treats for people you are being completely fooled.

Evolution did not create plants explicitly to be safe for humans to eat.  On the contrary, many plants are cleverly evolved to become extremely dangerous to consume.  Natural and highly dangerous foods include poison ivy, apple seeds, and tomato stems.  Don't eat those!  Whereas labs are trying deliberately to make food that is safe to eat and efficient to produce.  That doesn't mean that all GMOs are bad, or that they are good, just that the argument that they aren't 'natural' is worthless and meaningless.

I would like very much to vaccinate children against pseudoscience garbage like what The Food Babe peddles.  Not least because I really want them to vaccinate themselves against things like polio, and while that vaccine is not 'natural' it sure does work.

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