Five myths about the chemicals you breathe, eat and drink

hemicals? Even this won’t work. zoomar, CC BY-NC

Chemicals? Even this won’t work. zoomar, CC BY-NC

All too often the use of the word “chemicals” in the news, in advertising and in common usage has the implication that they are bad. You never hear about chemicals that fight infections, help crops grow or lubricate engines. That is because the chemicals doing that job are called antibiotics, fertilisers and engine oil, respectively.

As a result of the emotive language often used in conjunction with “chemicals”, a series of myths have emerged. Myths that Sense about Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry are debunking with the publication of Making Sense of Chemical Stories. Here are five of the worst offenders.

1. You can lead a chemical-free life

Despite the many products that claim otherwise, using the term “chemical-free” is plain nonsense. Everything, including the air we breathe, the food we eat and the drinks we consume, is made of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if you live off the land, following entirely organic farming practises or are a city-dweller consuming just processed food, either way your surroundings and diet consists of nothing but chemicals.

Natural and Man-Made Chemicals

Natural and Man-Made Chemicals

2. Man-made chemicals are dangerous

So we have established that there is no way to lead a chemical-free existence. But surely natural chemicals are better than synthetic ones?

Nope. Whether a chemical is man-made or natural tells you precisely nothing about how dangerous it is. Sodium thiopental, for example, is used in lethal injections but it’s about as toxic as amygdalin, which turns up in almonds and apple seeds. What makes one of these chemicals dangerous and the other part of your healthy five-a-day is quite simply the quantity that you consume.

Granted there are many documented cases of man-made chemicals that have been banned due to health concerns. But on balance chemicals have done far more good than harm. A good example is brominated flame retardants which are no longer used in furniture due to allegations of unpleasant side-effects. However these worries should be balanced against the estimated 1,150 lives saved because the chemical stopped furniture fires spreading.

Even substances that are upheld as terrible cases of chemical pollutants, such the pesticide DDT, have their place. The World Health Organisation support its use for control of malaria transmitting mosquitoes stating:

DDT is still needed and used for disease vector control simply because there is no alternative of both equivalent efficacy and operational feasibility, especially for high-transmission areas.

3. Synthetic chemicals cause cancer

News outlets are fond of reporting about research showing “links” between particular chemicals and occurrences of cancer and other diseases. Sometimes the stories even claim that a substance definitely causes cancer or definitely cures it.

But more often than not these reports only cover part of the scientists’ conclusions. They just mention that an effect on cancer (either positively or negatively) was seen in the presence of a chemical. This is what we call a correlation, but it does not necessarily imply a causal link.



For example, the number of diagnosed autism cases correlates with sales of organic produce, but no one would seriously suggest that man-made chemicals used on farms somehow protects people from autism.

The point is that correlation on its own isn’t that useful, unless it is accompanied by other observations such as a plausible mechanism to explain it. But once a correlation is seen then scientists can start looking for that other supporting information.

4. Chemical exposure is a ticking time-bomb

Phrases such as “cocktail of chemicals” and “time-bomb” are pretty emotive, and they certainly make for good headlines. But we permanently live among a cocktail of chemicals and have done so ever since life first evolved in a chemical soup.

So why have we suddenly become more aware of all the chemicals in our environment? In part, it is due to amazingly sensitive technologies that allow minute quantities of chemicals to be detected. It really isn’t difficult for a chemist to find minute quantities of antibiotics in a swimming pool or cocaine in water supply.

5. We are subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled experiment

There is no conspiracy. The reality is that the use, manufacture and disposal of chemicals are strictly regulated and controlled.

Each new synthetic chemical used as a food ingredient passes through a series of safety tests before it is allowed by the relevant body, such as the UK Food Standards Agency. New medicines go through clinical trials, which are even more rigorous tests, before the drug agency, such as the US Food and Drug Administration, allows it to be marketed. Even the tiny amount of waste chemicals produced by university research labs are managed according to the hazardous waste management rules of local governments.

Chemists in academia and industry have to adhere to these regulations in the process inventing or manufacturing amazing new chemicals to better our lives.

Article by Mark Lorch is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to speak so that people want to listen

Transactional communication model ©JasonsWrench

Transactional communication model ©JasonsWrench

Many people have the experience that when they speak, people don’t listen to them. Why is that? There are a number of habits that we need to move away from.  Here you find a list of six habits I think we need to avoid.:

  1. Gossip: speaking ill of somebody who is not present.
  2. Judging: it’s hard to listen to somebody if you know that you’re being judged.
  3. Negativity and complaining: we complain about the weather, about sport, about politics, about everything, but actually complaining is viral misery.
  4. Excuses: people that don’t take responsibility for their actions
  5. Exaggeration: exaggeration becomes lying, out and out lying, and we don’t want to listen to people we know are lying to us.
  6. Dogmatism: the confusion of facts with opinions.

But here are four really powerful cornerstones that we can stand on if we want our speech to be powerful:

  1. Honesty: being true in what you say, being straight and clear.
  2. Authenticity: being yourself.
  3. Integrity: being your word, actually doing what you say, and being somebody people can trust.
  4. Love: wishing people well.

Other 5 things to keep in mind in order to increase the power of your speaking:

  • Register: you can locate your voice in nose, throat, and chest. We vote for politicians with lower voices, it’s true, because we associate depth with power and with authority.
  • Timbre: the way your voice feels. Researches show that we prefer voices which are rich, smooth and warm. There are amazing things you can do with breathing, with posture, and with exercises to improve the timbre of your voice.
  • Prosody: the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. People who speak all on one note are really quite hard to listen to if they don’t have any prosody at all.
  • Pace: I can get very excited by saying something, or I can slow right down to emphasize, and at the end of that, of course, is our old friend silence. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of silence, we don’t have to fill it with ums and ahs. It can be very powerful.
  • Volume: it is not nice to impose your volume on people around you. You can get people pay attention by getting quiet.
Rajagopal speaking to 25,000 people, Janadesh 2007, India ©Ekta Parishad

Rajagopal speaking to 25,000 people, Janadesh 2007, India ©Ekta Parishad

Anytime you’re going to talk to anybody important, or to perform public speaking you need to warm up your voice. How to warm up your voice? Here are four vocal warmup exercises:

  • Arms up, deep breath in, and sigh out.
  • Warm up your lips, and say “ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba”. And “brrrrrrrrrr”, just like when you were a kid.
  • Exercise your tongue with exaggerated “la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la”. And then, roll an R. “Rrrrrrr”.
  • It starts with “we” and goes to “aw.” The “we” is high, the “aw” is low. So you go, weeeaawww, weeeaawww.


What would the world be like if we were speaking powerfully to people who were listening consciously in environments which were actually fit for purpose? Or to make that a bit larger, what would the world be like if we were creating sound consciously and consuming sound consciously and designing all our environments consciously for sound? That would be a world that does sound beautiful, and one where understanding would be the norm, and that is an idea worth spreading.

What else, what are other important tools to make communication more efficient? For example, what about eye contact, movement and smiling?

This post was inspired by Julian Treasure’s TED conference.

Passion, Optimism, and Hard Work

How to be succesful in what you do?
Passion – Love what you do or learn to love what you do
Optimism – Believe in greatness and the ability to triumph
Hard Work – Serious effort is required and the top performers put in the most hours.
It make sense. Thanks David.

David Cummings on Startups

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a YPO Southern 7 conference in Cape Cod. Two of my recent posts came from the event including Three Strong Bones to be Successful and Runner, Jogger, Walker, and Sitter. Some of the speakers included Ron Clark (founder of the Ron Clark Academy), Dr. Bob Rotella (famous sports psychologist), David Marquet (author of Turn the Ship Around!), and Bruce Pearl (Auburn basketball coach). After the event I reflected a bit on the speakers and content, coming away with a renewed enthusiasm about the human spirit.

Overwhelmingly, the speakers had the same message centered around three areas:

  • Passion – Love what you do or learn to love what you do
  • Optimism – Believe in greatness and the ability to triumph
  • Hard Work – Serious effort is required and the top performers put in the most hours

It’s always great to hear from engaging speakers with…

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The Good Country Index

Simon Anholt spent the last two years compiling The Good Country Index to determine which of the 125 countries contributes the most to the common good.

Today the biggest challenges facing humanity are global and borderless: climate change, economic crisis, terrorism, drug trafficking, slavery, pandemics, poverty and inequality, population growth, food and water shortages, energy, species loss, human rights, migration … the list goes on. All of these problems stretch across national borders, so the only way they can be properly tackled is through international efforts. The trouble is, most countries carry on behaving as if they were islands, focusing on developing domestic solutions to domestic problems. We’ll never get anywhere unless we start to change this habit.

Good Country Index isn’t interested in how well countries are doing, it’s interested in how much they are doing. The concept of the “Good Country” is all about encouraging populations and their governments to be more outward looking, and to consider the international consequences of their national behaviour. The Good Country Index isn’t trying to make any moral judgments: “good” as a measure of how much a country contributes to the common good. So in this context “good” means the opposite of “selfish”, not the opposite of “bad”.

The Good Country Index’s aim is to urge governments to look at the total impact of their policies. It’s no longer enough to provide prosperity, growth, justice and peace to one population alone: the international consequences of every action must be considered.

The top 10 countries of the index:

Good Countries Index

Good Countries Index

The Country which does the most good for the planet is Ireland, the most prosperous and equal country of the world.

The United States of America stands at the 21st position because it is selfish when it comes to the International Peace and Security indicator.

Italy, instead, stands at the 20th position, for the same reason of the USA: when it comes to the International Peace and Security it does not the common good.

China is at the 107th place: seems to be good at International publications of science and technology, but for all the other indicators need to work harder.

At the bottom of the list, the top 10 “bad guys” are:

125th      Libya
124th      Viet Nam
123rd      Iraq
122nd     Azerbaijan
121st       Angola
120th      Zimbabwe
119th      Indonesia
118th      Benin
117th      Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
116th      Yemen
115th      Iran (Islamic Republic of)

Sources of The Good Country Index

Google Docs:

For more information visit

What do you think of the Index, do you agree with the project and the results?