I’m about to link to Gawker, so please, perpetually aggrieved Internet dwellers, do feel free to leave some indignant “Why are you linking to Gawker??!!1!?”comments below.
To those of you still reading: An analytical chemist—that’s the writer’s self-description—has written a piece criticizing Vani Hari, apparently a popular food blogger, for her trendy, pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s a solid, sensible piece and an introduction to the many scientific, logical, and rhetorical holes in the “organic”-obsessed, pop-nutritionist sect. One target is the overuse of words like “toxic”:
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
Hari uses this tricky technique again and again. If I told you that a chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, used in industrial laboratory for hydrolysis reactions, and can create a nasty chemical burn is also a common ingredient in salad dressing, would you panic? Be suspicious that the industries were poisoning your children? Think it might cause cancer? Sign a petition to have it removed?
What if I told you I was talking about vinegar, otherwise known as acetic acid?
I have endless contempt for “alternative medicine,” which is certainly alternative but most certainly not medicine. The alternative crowd loves the vague word “toxins.” If you are sick, you are full of “toxins”; you must therefore “detox.” Everything from pancreatic cancer to bipolar disorder is due to “toxins.”
One way to know you’re talking to a quack is that, no matter the problem, he always has one diagnosis and thus one treatment.