Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Found in the Wild: A Chemical Free Sink

The most recent submission to The Chemical-Free Bear is this tweet (sent in by @Free_Radical1):

This one's a bit difficult. Sure, the usual argument would be something like "Oh, so my hands aren't made of chemicals?!?" But that just seems like I'm being difficult for no reason. We all know what this sign means. There was a bit of discussion on Twitter about what the sign should read ("No Waste Disposal" or perhaps "No Glassware or Waste"). Really I think the sign could just read "Handwashing only" and be done with it. You could say "Handwashing only. No Glassware. No waste disposal. No bathing. Not for drinking. Not to be used in the production of methamphetamines." but everything after "Handwashing only" isn't really necessary. If students have a habit of washing glassware adding "No Glassware or Waste Disposal" is fine.

This subject reminds me of the most common response I get when criticizing the phrase "chemical free". People tell me "Oh, you know what I meant!" The truth is: No, I don't know what you meant. Advertisers like to promote products as "chemical free" because it sets them apart. It puts their product on a pedestal and subtly tells you that there is something wrong with their competitor. But they don't do it because it's the clearest way to inform their customers. An informed customer is often the last thing they want.

The irony in all of this is that many consumers that buys into the "chemical free" nonsense are also in the crowd that demands labeling for GMO products. A "Chemical Free" label is the ultimate lie in advertising - not only because there is no such thing as "chemical free" but because the label means you don't have to be specific about what chemicals were removed or what documented harm those chemicals do. Just say "chemical free" and sell it at Whole Foods.

So please, don't label your products "chemical free". Label them "No Glassware or Waste Disposal" or whatever else it is that you actually meant to say.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Found in the Wild: Chemical Free Coconut Milk

Another chemical free product spotted in the wild. This one by @EIP_Elements of Twitter.

Embedded image permalink

The sign reads "No cheeky preservatives additives or chemicals".
I don't think so.


pH Nonsense


Here's something I found while strolling through the woods (of Twitter, that is):

It's an image from this website which claims that poor health is the result of an acidic body. The foods we eat, they say, can dramatically affect the pH of our bodies.

I'm calling bear-shit on this one

pH is the acidity scale that runs (mostly) between 1 and 14. A pH of 7 is neutral, anything less than 7 is acidic and anything greater than 7 is basic (alkaline). A pH of 2 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 3.

The author is correct that your ideal pH is about 7.35 - 7.45. Well, it's not just ideal, it's necessary. Your blood is always going to be between 7.35 and 7.45 as long as you're healthy (and alive). The website suggests that you should use litmus paper in the morning to test your body's pH. If you place a litmus paper on your tongue you probably could get a wide range of pH readings from day to day. But it would tell you absolutely nothing about the pH of your blood. You can't change that - even by eating acidic foods. For one reason your stomach is full of acid to begin with. Your stomach uses hydrochloric acid to break down food and begin the digestive process. Another website I saw explained that a blood pH below 6.9 will kill you - which is completely true. Why, then, do they think your body is so easily thrown off balance by the food you eat? I'm not saying what you eat doesn't matter, but I am saying that acidic foods won't kill you. To prove that point I've fixed the infographic:

Ok, so here's the deal: you eat a lot of acidic foods. Healthy food, unhealthy food, drinks, fruits, vegetables, and just about any food you can imagine is acidic. You'll see by the corrected infographic that healthy/unhealthy doesn't even correlate in the slightest to acidic/basic.

And lemons. Let's talk about lemons. 

Lemons do not have a pH of 10, they have a pH of 2. That infographic isn't just wrong, it's 100 million times wrong. Really! I didn't just make up that number. Remember how I said a pH of 2 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 3? Well, a pH of 2 is 100 million times more acidic than a pH of 10. A pH of 2 isn't even on the scale of the first infographic so you'll find lemons and limes (pH = 1.8) listed under pH of 3 in my corrected version. My version is still wrong, but it's 10 million times more correct!

Instead of just laughing at how ridiculous this error was I decided to investigate a little further. It turns out in certain circles that lemons are praised for their alkalizing properties. This makes no sense and is 100% wrong. An acid absolutely cannot have an alkalizing effect. Proponents of this lemon-magic are arguing that lemons have a pH that changes once it enters your body. They say that minerals, such as potassium will disassociate to make your body more alkaline. As a chemist currently studying dissociation energies of complexes containing potassium I'm interested! Certainly they can explain what it means for potassium to dissociate from itself, because it sounds like nonsense to me. Let's watch the video for clarification:

Oh, I get it! Lemons are acidic alkalizing fruits because of metabolic processes that occur and disassociate the potassium but oranges aren't because of sugars but tomatoes are but only in your body . . . and . . . nope. Bear-shit. 

Again, just look at the corrected infographic above. The food you eat is acidic. Almost all of it, and that's okay. You don't need to start an alkaline diet and you don't need to worry about alkalizing your blood. Imagine how scary it would be if by drinking one soda or eating one lime you could affect your blood's pH so dramatically that it would kill you. Thankfully our bodies do an excellent job of keeping us alive.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Chemical-Free Tans


I just had a very interesting back and forth with the owner (I assume) of a company that distributes a product promising a "chemical-free" tan.

This was my response:

That was yesterday. Today I got this reply:

Which clearly seems like a threat to me, but I was later told (in a now deleted but not forgotten or erased from my screencap tweet) that it was not a threat. It was just slander. Just. I mean slander isn't something I would ever say with the word "just" in front of it. Nothing is ever "just" the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation. But I suspect this entire back and forth comes down to misunderstanding what words really mean.

Take this for example:

She claims that the meaning of the word "herbal" is: "All natural, zero chemicals". When in fact the word "herbal" means: "a collection of descriptions of plants put together for medicinal purposes." Chemicals are all through plants. Any herbal remedy is useful only because of the chemicals that plant contains.

The real hilarity of this whole situation to me is that the product - which claims to be chemical-free - replaces a tanning technique which is 100% chemical-free (for reals!) UV radiation is chemical-free. That doesn't make it healthy, in fact this herbal way of getting a "tan" is likely safer than the UV exposure. But to advertise it as chemical-free is disingenuous. It's not chemical free. It's an herbal approach.

Found in the Wild: Inorganic Milk


@nothingsmonstrd on Twitter sent this tweet to me. Originally a tweet from the great Weird Al, it's a picture of inorganic milk - or maybe the 0% just refers to the fat content.

Keep sending me pictures of the chemical-free nonsense you see!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Found in the Wild: Chemical-Free Skin Care

The Chemical-Free Bear is looking for submissions. If you see examples of chemophobia in the wild send a tweet to @ChemFreeBear or email me "ChemicalFreeBear (at) gmail (dot) com"

This chemical-free skin care product was sent in by @ChemProfCramer.

Professor Cramer brings up a good point: is this a product for chemical-free skin or a chemical-free product for skin?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Chemical (and evidence) Free Recovery Drink

RAWR! I just finished watching an episode of Dragon's Den that was so bad I had to start a blog. Yes, the RPS (Rawr! per second) was that high.

Dragon's Den is the UK version of the US show Shark Tank (ok it's actually the other way around, but I don't live in the UK and I saw Shark Tank before I knew of Dragon's Den). The idea is simple: Entrepreneurs pitch their product and ask for an investment. If one of the Dragons like the idea they'll invest. 

The show started off with a very scientific idea that was disregarded much too quickly if you'd ask me. Look at this picture. I would love to have one of these pieces of art. Imagine your own DNA being part of the artwork. The Dragons didn't think that science and art go together well. I know many great science artists that would disagree. I want to know where I can get one for me and my cubs. 

Tell me you don't want one of these

"Nourish Me Now", a natural sports recovery drink. The entrepreneur in pink says that the idea for this product came about when she was training for a triathlon and was disappointed with all the "synthetic" options for exercise recovery. She claims a background in physiotherapy and biology. Speaking of their company she says:

"Our philosophy is "No chemicals, just nature. You can't lose.'"

My philosophy is "RAWR!!"

She goes on to claim that her drink is:
"Low fat. It's healthy. It's not full of chemicals"
Let's think about that claim. It only took one sentence to contradict herself. Your drink can't be low in fat with no chemicals. Fats are long chain chemicals that look like this:

This is a triglyceride
Source: Wikipeida Commons

Kelly Hoppen (one of the Dragons) disputes the claim that the drink contains no chemicals, but her problem is that the drink contains non-organic fruit (which would still contain chemicals).

The entrepreneur explains that they don't need preservatives because "some of the fruit juices we use contain citric acid"

Oh, do you mean this citric acid? A chemical?
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Peter Jones (another Dragon) then further disputes the presence of sugar. She says that instead of sugar being added the entrepreneurs should have used "natural sugar". I'm not sure what that really means. It certainly doesn't address the reason that a high sugar drink would be bad for you; it still has the sugar in it.

The pink entrepreneur, showing that now she does understand chemistry, defends using sugar in the drink saying:

"Well how else would you get the carbohydrate in?"

The second entrepreneur speaks up to defend the non-organic fruits used in the drink says that "There isn't any evidence against organic and recovery". So she'll admit that organic foods aren't any better for recovery. Why then are they so adamant about the "natural" and "chemical-free" claims? I'm not understanding these people.

Kelly Hoppen didn't like these claims one bit. She says:
 "You can't say that organic isn't better than not."
I had this look on my face the whole time. Even when Kelly here was speaking (she's even deeper into the nonsense).

Yes, actually, you can say that organic foods are no better than non-organic. If you chose organic foods for an ethical/moral reason or because you like the idea that's one thing. If you chose organic foods because you believe they are better for you then I'm sorry but the evidence just isn't there. In fact the evidence doesn't even show they taste better. I'm not saying organic is bad, I'm just saying it's not magical. 

Then there's this hard hitting question from Piers Linney (another Dragon)

"What if the evidence showed that pouring a load of chemicals into that made it more effective. Would you do that?"
The pink shirted entrepreneur replies:
"No 'cause I don't want to...wouldn't want to...wouldn't want that in my body."


She admits that evidence plays no role in her decision. This means that later, when defending her product she says "...but the evidence is there" I don't believe a word she says. Not only does she present no evidence she admits that evidence won't change her mind. What science background did she claim again?

The whole scene was very contradictory to me. Here's a woman who:

  1. Claims a degree in the sciences but rejects science. 
  2. Is selling an all-natural product but says that an organic label is unnecessary as the organic nature of product doesn't improve it's performance. 
  3. "Has the evidence" but refuses to change her mind based on evidence. 
  4. Says her product is chemical-free just after telling us which chemicals are in it. 
And what evidence does she even have? From what I can tell she's selling milk, yogurt, strawberries, and sugar. All packaged as a "natural recovery drink". That's not a novel product it's a milkshake.

Ya, I wouldn't have invested either. Smart move there Dragons.

A Note (before the comments get too angry):

Let me be clear on one thing: I know that when these entrepreneurs say that their product is "chemical-free" what they mean is that there are no harmful chemicals, but that's not ok. There is a real problem with throwing around the term "chemical-free". For one it leads to a misunderstanding of chemistry (and thus the world). Furthermore it gives companies a marketing loophole. Just claim your product as chemical free and you're already better than your competitor. You can even sell an identical product as "chemical free" just to look better. How about some specifics? Here's a challenge for any company selling a "chemical free" product: 
Don't just tell me product doesn't contain chemicals. Tell me which chemicals you have removed (as compared to your competitor), why they were removed, and whether your product is actually better because of it. Until then "chemical free" just means "I don't think you'll do your research before buying."