Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Zohnerisms and anti-Zohnerisms

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Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death! Learn more about DHMO here!

This is one that comes around every April, so I thought I’d talk about it in September. Just in case you hadn’t cottoned on, DHMO is an urban legend. It’s an alternative chemical name for water.

Last spring, Nathan Zohner, an enterprising 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho, conducted his science fair project on just this theme. Nathan distributed a tongue-in-cheek report that had been kicking around the Internet, “Dihydrogen Monoxide: The Unrecognized Killer” (from which the quotes above are drawn), to 50 of his classmates.

These are smart kids who had studied chemistry; many of them, like Nathan, have parents who work at the nearby Idaho Nuclear Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Nathan simply asked them to read the report (which is completely factual) and decide what, if anything to do about the chemical. They could even ask the teacher what DHMO was, but none did.

In the end, 43 students, or 86 percent of the sample, “voted to ban dihydrogen monoxide because it has caused too many deaths,” wrote Nathan in the conclusion to his project, adding that he “was appalled that my peers were so easily misled. . . . I don’t feel comfortable with the current level of understanding.” Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer

Writes James Glassman in the above 1997 Washington Post article, “The implications of Nathan’s research are so disturbing that I’ve decided to coin a term: ‘Zohnerism,’ defined as the use of a true fact to lead a scientifically and mathematically ignorant public to a false conclusion.”

What a fantastic phrase, one might think, until they read the next line in this Washington Post article: “Environmental hysterics — Vice President Al Gore springs to mind — and ideologues in such fields as race, women’s issues and economics are adept at using Zohnerisms, with help from the media, to advance their agendas.”

Sort of ironic now the tide of opinion in the US is turning, really.

Zohnerisms are commonly used by media and politics to create sensationalism and distort the real facts. Raw milk is currently under threat yet again in the US because some E. coli recently contaminated some spinach (the leap of logic here is obviously beyond me). But just how common is the opposite scenario, the anti-Zohnerism? How many times have we heard public health officials deny there is anything wrong with the food supply, only to eat their words? I for one am sick of hearing about how safe aspartame, MSG and other additives are.

This 1999 CSPI review on the safety of additives [pdf] has a word or two on the subject:

The FDA is the federal agency responsible for ensuring that synthetic food colors and other additives are properly tested for safety. In 1993, the FDA published “in cooperation” with IFIC a pamphlet entitled “Food Color Facts.” Actually, the pamphlet was written by IFIC and only edited by the FDA. IFIC is an organization directed by officials of, and funded by, many makers of food additives and processed foods, such as General Mills, Kraft, Procter and Gamble, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Monsanto (maker of aspartame), and Ajinomoto (maker of monosodium glutamate).

The pamphlet states:

Q. Do food color additives cause hyperactivity?

A. Although this theory was popularized in the 1970s, well-controlled studies conducted since then have produced no evidence that food color additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children. A Consensus Development Panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that colorings or other food additives cause hyperactivity. The panel said that elimination diets should not be used universally to treat childhood hyperactivity, since there is no scientific evidence to predict which children may benefit.

Says the CSPI: “The pamphlet has rewritten history.”


Written by alienrobotgirl

29 September, 2006 at 3:28 pm

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