Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I ♥ Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is not frequently seen as scientific or skeptical, but I beg to differ. I can't speak for the whole chemical community but it's fair to say that it is sometimes frustrating to see how "natural" products market themselves when they are chemically identical to their synthetic versions. Just because you made it from corn and made food prices go up, it doesn't change the fact that the stuff in the green bottle is the same as the "nasty chemicals" in the red bottle.

We call this chemophobia, a fear of chemicals created by ignorance of basic chemistry. Sometimes this fear is rational: I've gotten a chemical burn using drain cleaner before, and generally you want to use powerful oxidizers, reducers, acids, and bases carefully. "Chemicals" is a broad class. The set includes everything from the innocuous and everyday (Water) to the horrific (thalidomide). Yet we can drown quite easily in water, and thalidomide has shown utility for some conditions in men. Deferring to the process of science is the only way to truly assess the risks and benefits of the world around us.

Minor Clarification: The CR posting makes clear that we don't know for sure of the "green" stuff in question is necessarily chemically identical to the original. I just wouldn't put it past them. For some products I've seen, the level of deliberate honesty is akin to slapping "fat-free" labels on bags of sugar. (Makes mental note to try that.)


  1. "Natural" products don't bother me nearly as much as bottled water. The EPA's standards for tap water are more stringent than the FDA's standards for bottled water, and many brands of "spring water" are actually bottled tap water. Paranoid water drinkers should get a charcoal filter and stop throwing their damn plastic bottles everywhere!

    I would've picked dioxin as the poster child for the "horrific" category. Nasty stuff.

  2. Dioxin is truly nasty, but I can't think of any positive uses for dioxin. It would have put the kibosh on my handy little rhetorical flourish. Then where would we be? :)

    As for the bottled water thing, it's also just a terrific waste of money. I used to just keep refilling the bottle- until the BPA thing came out at least.


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