Why Are People Still Getting Basic Science Wrong?

OK people, is “Science” education just a frivolity, or are there really that many people that slept through science in the 3rd grade and never woke up again? I’m serious, there’s a desperate lack of basic science education that’s being celebrated and lauded as if it was a good thing, even the most basic of things.

Over the past week, two science topics have got my pulse racing on social media. The first was a post by NPR on June 29th that had the headline “Don’t Believe in Evolution? Try Thinking Harder”. My quick comment of

“silly headline. If you don’t believe in evolution, you’re not thinking at all”

started a bit of a snowstorm of people who don’t understand simple things. Things like ‘evolution is not abiogenesis’ (abiogenesis is ‘origin of life’) or that evolution has been extremely well tested in both models and the lab, and been observed happening (what do you think antibiotic resistance is?) are somewhat par for the course, but absolutely basic things like ‘theory is not a hypothesis’. Also, side note – first comment on an NPR story means your notifications will go off constantly for days.

Yet there are even more egregious violators of ‘elementary school education’ out there, and this one (also posted on twitter) perhaps takes the biscuit.

FB-scam-weedkiller

Amazing, a Next Day, Natural weedkiller. And what’s more the poster tells us that the “Best part is, no chemicals!!!!”

To quote Quantum Leap’s Dr Sam Bennett, “oh boy“. Let’s bread down the claims, shall we? We have “chemical free”, “natural”, “weed killer” and “next day”

Claim 1 – “No Chemicals”

It’s hard to know where to begin really. so let’s start with the ‘no chemicals’ part.

Well, we’ve got White Vinegar, salt and ‘dawn’. Funny thing is, I believe they’re all made from chemicals. Let’s make sure though. Luckily I have these three items, and they each come with an ingredients list.

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So, on the left there’s a bottle of White Vinegar, next to a container of Salt. Then there’s not one, but two different bottles of Dawn (depending on the scent you’d prefer – the image doesn’t specify a particular Dawn) again, with their ingredients list.

Let’s expand it here

  • Vinegar
    • White Distilled Vinegar (diluted with Water to 5% acidity) which is to say
      • Water (H2O)
      • Acetic Acid (CH3COOH)
  • Salt
  • Dawn (Dawn Ultra clear rinse, hand renewal with Olay, Cucumber Melon) containing

I don’t know where Ms Courtney Luper went to school, but all those are what we call  “chemicals“. I spent a bunch of years studying chemistry (even taking part in my school’s “Young analyst of the Year” competition) and I’d have trouble pronouncing some of these. Others I can’t even find the formula for, which should tell you not only that it’s “chemical”, but a very complex one.

Then again, water is a chemical, air is a mixture of chemicals, there’s no such thing as ‘chemical free’.

So, on the claim of ‘chemical free’, not only is it busted because it doesn’t exist, BUT there are actually a whole bunch of chemicals there that most people wouldn’t even know how to start pronouncing, let alone drawing their molecular structure.

Claim 1 “chemical free” – BUSTED

Claim 2 – “Natural”

“Natural” is a big buzzword in the marketplace today, just like “Organic”. It tends to mean ‘safe’, “healthy”, “beneficial”.

Complete bollocks.

Cyanide is Organic. Arsenic is ‘natural”. Take either, and see how ‘healthy’, ‘safe’ or beneficial it’ll be. The same can be said for a myriad of other ‘natural’ things that will kill you – smallpox, anthrax, water (drowning), wild animals of all shapes and sizes, uranium, gravity (falling from something), cancer, HIV, or even my fist. If it occurs in nature, it’s ‘natural’.

What makes it even more amusing is that a lot of the stuff in this mixture isn’t even ‘natural’. See all those ingredients with a * next to them? They’re not natural, or in other words, they’re ‘synthetic’. They do not naturally exist, and were specifically created by chemists.

It basically covers everything but ‘salt, water, vinegar’.

And going back to ‘organic’, that term has a specific meaning in chemistry. It means ‘carbon based’. With the exception of the table salt and it’s ingredients, and water, every other chemical above is ‘organic’, including vinegar. Other organic things include gasolene, most plastics, TNT, and most pesticides, including the majority of weaponised nerve-agents.

Claim 2 “Natural” – BUSTED

Claim 3 – “Weed Killer”

This is a little harder to go through, but basically you have three components, the dish soap, the vinegar, and the salt. the dish soap is mainly there to help mix it together- its a distraction from the actual ‘killing’ power. That comes from the vinegar and the salt.

Vinegar kills by making the soil acidic. It’s quite simple, but it also takes some time.

Salt on the other hand is well known for its vegetation-killing properties. How well known? Well, the Romans famously salted the earth around Carthage after the sack of that North African city, to prevent its resurrection by preventing anything growing there.

In fact, this isn’t so much a ‘weed killer’, as ‘vegitation sterilizer’. The Salt and the vinegar kill ALL vegetation between them, not just weeds, and not just this once. The vinegar may eventually run through the water table, as will the salt, but it’ll take a significant amount of time to do so, and very little vegetation will grow at all.

It’s not a weed-killer though, it’s a full-on herbicide. So to market it as a ‘weed killer’ is misleading, although this was disclosed in the attached description.

Claim 3 “Weed Killer” – Partial true

Claim 4 – “Next Day”

So, this miracle substance will kill all plants, but will it do it “next day” as it claims? No, probably not. If you make the concentrations high enough it probably will, but as directed, it’s very unlikely. A big giveaway that it’s not a ‘next day’ solution is the photo itself. Were it really a sub-24hour solution, why is the ‘proof’ two photos taken a far greater period of time apart?

There’s two giveaways to the photos not being the a day or two apart

  1. the vegetation in the background
  2. the wood of the posts

In the right half, the vegetation in the background appears more developed. The foliage that’s prominent in the top right of the image, can be seen lower down in the left half, somewhat obscured by the smaller bunch of poison ivy leaves. Add in the size of the tree trunk (which at least appears to be noticeably thicker) and it’s clear it’s not even the same month.

The posts themselves are odd too. In the left picture they have a reddish tint to them, not just in the wet sections, but lower down. That sort of coloration is typical of new lumber. In the right, the wood’s been bleached white, with the grain a different shade. Of course this could be an issue of lighting (overcast in the left, direct sunlight in the right) so it’s not conclusive by any means. Of course, the crack to the right of the knot does appear to have widened in the right, which would happen when wood sun-dries (and bleaches)

Here’s what is though – they’re not the same strands of poison ivy. The right hand picture shows two groups of wilting vegetation with a tendril connecting them, and the left shows the same; two groups of leaves, but healthy and wet, connected by a tendril of plant. Look more closely though. The left shows two groups of leaves in the center of the left, but what appears to be only one in the right. again, not conclusive, right? Well look again, and look at that tendril. The one on the right is attached tot he corner of the post significantly higher than in the left picture. thanks to the grain we can see that where the left picture has the tendril going, the right has a shadow instead.

If this stuff killed ‘next day’, then why has the plant moved its own growth like that? (hint: it hasn’t). So either it’s a separate growth or the photographer deliberately attempted to stage a photo.

All these things combined – the change in the posts, the background growth and the difference in the photographed Ivy trails shows it’s not ‘next day’, and possibly not even the same year.

Claim 4 “Next Day” – BUSTED

Also, we’ve covered how the chemicals kill, but when I failed to mention is that the salt and vinegar both work at the roots, but here it’s been sprayed on the leaves. So, does the soap work to eat through the leaves so the salt and vinegar can be transported to the roots, or does it need time to go to the roots via the soil from leaf-dripping.

What’s my point with this though?

My point is that people are stupid, and basic, simple chemistry is being ignored and that ignorance is pandered to for marketing. “but no-one’s selling anything here” You might say, and that’s true, no-one here is selling anything in that post. However, the person posting it IS selling stuff. Ms Courtney Luper is behind “get skinny with Courtney”, a website that sells scammy weight-loss stuff. Enzymes, ‘toxins’, all the usual deception keys are there. And how do you market to those people, if not through posts like the one we’ve deconstructed above?

Of course the bigger question is, since we’ve now definitively established that she doesn’t know what ‘natural’ means, or indeed ‘chemical’, her claims of effectiveness are misleading, and her before/after images aren’t what they’re made out to be (which is REALLY bad when you’re selling misleading diet fads), who on EARTH would risk buying anything chemical to eat from her? If you’re one of the almost 1.6 MILLION followers she has on facebook (luckily Twitter is far more discerning), watch out, you could be putting your life in your hands, just so she can make money from a pyramid scheme.