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It’s really about ethics in food journalism

Uh-oh. Someone better warn the “Food Babe” aka Vani “there is no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever” Hari about that scarily ubiquitous chemical molecule dihydrogen monoxide and the evil conspiracy to make the world believe that DHMO is totally safe for us to ingest.

For a serious scientific takedown of Hari’s latest ignorant scaremongering, try Orac at Scienceblogs. For a more amusing snarky takedown (n.b. Content Note for Casual Ableism) try C.A. Pinkham at Kitchenette.

Hari is currently promoting her book which promises to educate us all about hidden toxins in our foods so that we can remove/avoid them and thus “Lose Weight, Look Years Younger, and Get Healthy in Just 21 Days” which, as the Kitchenette post points out, sounds exactly like the sort of promise only a totally reliable and trustworthy person would make. Hari also warns the world about listening to the “medical establishment” or even “registered dietitians” about supposedly safely ingestable chemicals in food because these health professionals allegedly all have some icky “industry tie” and that it’s only outsiders (like Hari) who can see the “corruption”.

Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to substitute for all that DHMO in my diet.

12 thoughts on It’s really about ethics in food journalism

    1. The thing is that conspiracy theorists- whether its vaccine-deniers, people who believe in energy healing, anti-GMO fanatics, or chemophobes- display intensely motivated reasoning. It’s generally impossible to refute their claims with facts or evidence; instead, it usually reinforces their beliefs.

      As such, mockery seems like a pretty good tool to prevent the ‘innocent bystanders,’ as it were, from falling into the same trap. In other words, the target isn’t the people who are wrong, but the people they might convince.

      1. To take one small example, my university’s hospital had an incredibly shameful ‘institute for alternative medicine,’ which taught all nature of bullshit (think reiki, chiropractic medicine, homeopathy, biofields, etc) and was run by someone who’s primary credential was “studying as a Native American spirit healer for 13 years.*”

        Trying to go after them head-on was totally futile; you had to educate every single person on the problems with every individual single form of make-believe medicine, which took forever even if they wanted to listen. Plus, the hospital always responded with a blizzard of impressive-sounding psuedoscientific jargon, vague implications their critics were paid by the pharmaceutical companies, and accusations of racism/colonialism (i.e. discounting a non-Western culture’s beliefs about how biology works is ‘epistemological violence’ and basically makes you Leopold II).

        What actually worked? Three years of viciously satirical cartoons that eventually made big donors so uncomfortable they forced the administration to remove the department’s funding.

        *Which is a shitshow on so many levels

    2. I strongly disagree with the premise of the linked piece on pharyngula, which I just read. Like several commenters there, I think that the DHMO joke is not usually used by elitists as a way of mocking an underclass of uneducated people, but is used as a way of mocking wilfully ignorant alarmists like this “Food Babe,” who consistently raise false alarms about common chemicals while purporting to be experts on the subject. It’s not “punching down” at all, given the prevalence and popularity of beliefs in pseudo-science and alternative medicine, at least in the USA.

      1. Particularly given which people are usually the most ardent subscribers to pseudo-scientific knowledge in this country.

        1. I know the popular stereotype is that it’s rich white liberals, but is that actually accurate? I looked through a couple studies and it seems like psuedoscientific beliefs are relatively evenly distributed across class, gender, race, and geographic lines (which is partly a function of how depressingly widespread they are).

        2. I could be wrong, I admit–I was thinking of how the school started by the Park Slope Food Co-op has only a 65% vax rate. Totally willing to stand corrected if need be.

    3. Thanks for these links, Doc. I’m of a mind with some of the others here, that what Chris was calling out definitely can be a problem in some cases, but isn’t necessarily always used to punch down at the less educated. When used to mock people who we can be pretty sure actually do know better but who have chosen to cynically sell snake oil, it seems more like punching up at those who exploit chemophobia with pseudoscience for their own profit.

      ETA: I will in future definitely spend some extra time thinking before using DHMO as a joke, though.

  1. Sometimes punching down is OK. Like, say, when the targets are completely wrong, causing a lot of public damage, and otherwise being high risk. You shouldn’t punch down just because, but the fact that they may be of lower social status doesn’t obligate you to hold off if it’s an issue like this one.

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