Subscribe to the OSS Weekly Newsletter!

Chemical Confusion

There are two myths that are a constant irritation in the fight against pseudoscience. One is the equating of the term “chemical” with “toxin,” the other is the suggestion that “natural” substances are superior to “synthetics.” Everything in the world is of course made of chemicals. Whether we are talking about water or nerve gas, we are talking about chemicals. Whether or not a chemical is “toxic” depends on its molecular structure and on the extent and type of exposure. It does not depend on whether that chemical was made by a chemist in the lab or by “Mother Nature” in a bush. The only way to determine toxicity, whether that chemical is naturally occurring or synthetic, is by studying it appropriately. One more thing. Toxicity is in no way related to the complexity of a chemical’s scientific name or to whether that name is easy or hard to pronounce.

Here is an interesting perspective on these issues by chemistry teacher Enrico Uva, in a piece entitled, "A Misleading Ad Involving Chemistry", as featured on his “Love Science (and math too!) website.

Back to top