Saturday, July 12, 2008

Now You Know About Dihydrogen Monoxide

I posted a video earlier with Penn and Teller showing a woman asking for signatures to ban the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. The woman in the video did not say anything that wasn't true, and didn't exaggerate the potential problems of dihydrogen monoxide. The signers were told the truth, but apparently all they needed to know about dihydrogen monoxide to agree to sign is that it was a chemical, that it couldn't be washed off when we washed our vegetables, and could be found in reservoirs and baby foods. It was presented as a potential threat to our health and to the environment.

The tone of the woman asking for signatures on the petition was the same as the tone used by people asking for signatures (for and against) candidates for political office, local propositions to be voted on, drilling for oil in Alaska, gas prices, the war in Iraq, environmental issues such as global warming, climate control, and air quality issues, and a whole host of other issues. Issues that are important to people who are willing to stand in malls and elsewhere asking for signatures. You and I may not have thought the issue was important, but obviously someone does, and if it's important enough to someone to draw up a petition and spend time getting the required signatures, it's probably important and worth the minute it takes to affix our signatures. We want to believe that people are serious about issues and wouldn't ask us to sign a petition if the cause wasn't well-thought out and important to society.

In today's society with our ever-increasing awareness of the environment, we are thinking more and more about the environment. We think about the chemicals we use and how many chemicals are bad for the environment and for us, as human beings and as the caretakers of the environment and the world in which we live. We are coming to realize that we may not have been the caretakers we should have been. We want to do our part to save the environment so that it can be a legacy to future generations. A good and noble desire. So we "go green" and sign petitions.

If you watched the video about dihydrogen monoxide, you understand that my accompanying text was tongue in cheek about the seriousness of the threat posed by the use of dihydrogen monoxide. While I wrote that with my tongue firmly planted in my right cheek (mouth, not elsewhere), I do understand that when the quality, and even the quantity, of dihydrogen monoxide is compromised, we could have a serious problem on our hands.

Would I have signed the petition? Possibly. Especially in my younger, more trusting days. I have been guilty of getting up in arms about something without knowing all the details of the issue. When we put the "logical" side of our brains at hold, we forget to ask questions and consider what the petition is asking. Sometimes we just don't want facts to get in the way of our beliefs about an issue.

But to be creditable, we really do need to know as much as possible about the subject we are passionate about; the pros and cons, the good and bad. We need to know that the reasons behind the petition we are signing, in this case banning a chemical, is not just that the chemical is bad, but why is it bad, and just what the heck is it anyway?

The point of the video is that people will sign a petition if they are told how bad something is without knowing all the details. In this video, most people signed the petition without even asking what dihydrogen monoxide is and what it does. We are so accustomed to hearing the chemical names of substances that are bad for us, that we don't think about what we know the chemical as. Most of the time, a chemical is just a chemical and that is all we ever know about it, if that much.

We forget that there are chemicals that we use every day, but call them by a commonly known name. Doctors tell us to take acetylsalicylic acid and call them in the morning, teachers use calcium carbonate in the classroom everyday (at least I think they still do), we put sodium chloride and sucrose in our food and don't give it a thought. We might soak our feet or our achy bodies in magnesium sulfate. I use impure dilute acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate to clean. Prescription drugs are just chemicals put together that will alleviate symptoms or cure a disease.

What is dihydrogen monoxide anyway? It's a commonly used chemical that is used every day by each and every one of us, some more than others. Some of us need it more than others do, but don't take advantage of it's availability. We ingest it in our food and beverages; we use it when we bathe and brush our teeth, when we clean our houses and clothes, and tend our yards; we use it for ourselves, our children, our pets, and our food supply. We literally can't live without it, but too much of it can kill us.

You know it better by it's chemical symbol H20.


And as Paul Harvey would say, Now, you know the rest of the story.

PS...if you don't know the chemical names I used in my examples of chemicals used every day, find them here

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