Posted in nutrition, science

Leave Science To The Experts


Science is hard. I completed my degree in chemistry some 20 years ago and remember how difficult some of that stuff was. Memorising the periodic table and the electron configurations of all the transition metals; trying to figure where the axes of symmetry are on a molecule, in three dimensions, in your head; figuring out what precursors you need to make Limonene (dead easy, Diels-Alder dimerisation of isoprene, ‘natch). Aye, science is hard shit, yo.

But what I find even harder, nay impossible! is when folks with no understanding of science try and engage with science. One such example is Vani Hari, otherwise know as the Food Babe.

The Food Babe should really be harmless. A hilarious, ill-researched, illogical rambling about GMO, beaver bums and ingredients in beer confined to the dimmest corner of the internet.

But she is not. Stupid tends to attract stupid, like a poo magnet. The Food Babe is influential; 876 thousand Facebook fans (the “Food Babe Army” FTW). And with that level of blind, ignorant, social media justice behind her, she can do some serious damage.

As Realscience points out:

Hari catapulted into the public spotlight this year by accusing Subway of using a “harmful” chemical found in yoga mats to make its bread fluffy. It’s true, the chemical in question, azodicarbonamide, is found in both yoga mats and bread, but as a food additive, it’s not dangerous in the slightest. Azodicarbonamide is merely guilty of having a hard-to-pronounce, foreign-sounding name. Nevertheless, Subway caved to her request.

David Gorski brilliantly refers to this as Quackmail:

She’s done it to beer brewers over a number of scary sounding chemicals, in particular a hilariously dumb misunderstanding of chemistry that led her to confuse propylene glycol with propylene glycol alginate, even though the two chemicals are very different, and propylene glycol alginate is derived from kelp.

I mean, haha! lolz!

But I’m not laughing.

What I’m trying to do with this article is to explain that science can be tricky, nuanced and complex. And sometimes folks just aren’t bright enough to properly appraise what they read. And I’m also warning you that when your favourite nutritionist begins posting things like:

TBHQ is a chemical made from butane (a very toxic gas) and can only be used at a rate of 0.02 percent of the total oil in a product.

That being the same butane as comes out your cooker, then. Or:

The air you are breathing on an airplane is recycled from directly outside of your window. That means you are breathing everything that the airplanes gives off and is flying through. The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%. To pump a greater amount of oxygen in costs money in terms of fuel and the airlines know this! The nitrogen may affect the times and dosages of medications, make you feel bloated and cause your ankles and joints swell.

You need to start asking yourself, am I being misled by someone that hasn’t the intellectual horsepower to really understand what they’re talking about?

It took 4 years of hard study to get that degree and I’m jolly glad I did; it’s taught me how to question everything, think critically and when I read stuff like:

Kraft adds straight up Monosodium Glutamate, aka “MSG”, to create an addiction to processed food early in a child’s life.

I get really angry because it’s stupid, inflammatory and damaging and some people reading it trust it and believe it.

Science is hard. Question everything and if you’re not sure, then shouldn’t you be leaving it to the experts?

Comments? hook me up on twitter, yo.


I write dumb things about food

8 thoughts on “Leave Science To The Experts

  1. I like what you wrote here and it needs to be put out there. Just a suggestion, that scientists illustration makes your article look childish. That should matter, but it does, it will keep someone from reading it. Keep the good fight!

  2. As a BSc graduate and now dietetics student, I agree with your view on “leaving science to the experts”. It saddens me that there is so much misinformation out there. I however think that the experts need to be spending more time in explaining the science to the public. However, I think that it can be damaging to say that the public is not bright enough to properly appraise what they read. Instead of putting down the public, we should be informing them.

    1. my argument was against a very particular subset of the public (foodbabe) who choose to wilfully ignore the evidence

  3. It’s incredibly difficult to find an expert in science. It’s easy to rag on food babe, and we should because she is incredibly destructive, but at the same time look at the destruction from places like NASA or the Smithsonian or the science “experts” that write curriculum and assessments. If you want to fix this, you need to find some experts and they need to start hardcore quizzing people in positions of science influence and breaking down the misconceptions and ignorance that so many highly educated scientists have about their own fields while rebuilding them up.

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