Blog hits the right note on chemophobia

The American Council on Science and Health has been fighting chemophobia since its inception in 1978. Unfortunately the advent of the Internet, while providing much valid information, has also become a venue of inaccurate and fear-mongering sites. Thus, we were more than pleased to discover a blog on the website of Scientific American by chemistry Ph.D. student Chad Jones that debunks some pseudo-scientific fear-mongering on the site of Dr. Joseph Mercola about the synthetic sweetener sucralose (sold as Splenda).

Mercola s site, according to Mr. Jones, shows clear evidence of fraudulent information. First, Mercola states that sucralose is more similar to DDT than to sugar. But as Jones points out, Mercola never specifies exactly what this similarity consists of. If, for example, he was equating the two because they both contain the element chlorine, he is relying on the ignorance of the general public to make his point. One might just as well cite table salt as a poison because it also contains chlorine.

By likening the sweetener to a generally disapproved pesticide, Mercola implies that sucralose has health effects that are, at the least, similar to DDT s supposed health effects. However, he provides no valid references supporting his statements or implications.

Mercola uses testimonials as evidence that sucralose is dangerous. It doesn t take a Ph.D. in statistics to recognize that this is a spurious action. A testimonial, especially one that isn t vetted by reliable scientific sources, cannot be taken as proof of anything.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross noted, I was glad to see someone addressing the issue of chemophobia, and certainly Dr. Mercola is a ripe target for an attempt fruitless though it will be at correction. But it s a shame that Mr. Jones felt the need to refer to one of public health s most beneficial and important chemicals, the mosquito-killer DDT, as a carcinogen. As someone who has studied DDT in depth, I can assure you that it s no more a carcinogen than, say, sucralose meaning not at all.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava comments, It s refreshing to see some efforts to counter misinformation about chemicals on the Internet. Hopefully, this debunking exercise will be read widely and provide a basis for the public to better understand when false statements are being promoted.