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French President Emmanuel Macron has declared he will ban the American herbicide glyphosate within three years, and sooner if a replacement is ready. Italy has vowed to do the same. Activists have said the replacement is already available, and it has been used in France since 1863 - a fatty acid called pelargonic (a.k.a. nonanoic, because of the nine carbon atoms) acid. Chemically, it's pretty close to a soap. Does this make any sense toxicologically? Is this another case of "natural = safe?" Or is something else going on? Let's take a look at the toxicological and...

Bombarded by elation, jubilance and some wacky celebratory rituals, being in Philadelphia during the Eagles victorious playoff football game earlier this week against the Minnesota Vikings was quite an eye-opening experience for me.

First, there was the pre-game set-up throughout news outlets and social media that city officials were greasing up poles and lamp posts in anticipation of a win - because, apparently, there must be enough people who would injure themselves by climbing them for the city to deem the prevention measure even necessary. Then, post-game and with the team Super Bowl bound, the public chants grew louder and mishap videos inundated the internet. This one went viral as it depicts a happy fan so consumed with zeal that he ran into a subway beam, see...

I lack the art gene. While other people can spend hours in a single room at the Met or MOMA, after five minutes I'm thinking about ways to light myself on fire. I just don't get art. 

But I do get chemistry, and as we speak, there is an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which is a seriously hot ticket (I'd rather jam fishhooks in my eye). And these two converged when I read about some of the techniques that Warhol used, like peeing on paintings. And inviting others to do the same. This is not as crazy as it sounds ...

Tattooing and body piercing are somewhat trendy now, having gained popularity in the 1990s. However, these forms of "body modification/body art" are anything but new. Both have been around since ancient times and are practiced in many cultures. Although their popularity attests that millions of customers feel both procedures are worth doing, there are some potential risks and complications.

Tattooing

Tattooing involves multiple punctures of the skin to instill pigment into the dermal or second layer. It is permanent, although over time some of the colors may fade. Dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin notes some risks to keep in mind when considering getting a tattoo. First, self-tattooing or giving someone else a tattoo as an amateur should never be done....

Smokers shorten their lives by an average of seven years, according to insurance actuarial tables (one of humanity's greatest inventions and a model for rational calculation that the rest of the culture would do well to imitate). At least, seven years is what studies suggest is the handicap insurance companies are putting on smoking. Insurance companies normally don't officially open their actuarial tables to outside inspection, since those numbers are the basis of all the gambling-like choices the companies make about who to charge how much, the odds of having to pay out, and so forth. Insurance companies' habit of treating smokers as a separate, unique category of human being on questionnaires should give you some hint how much worse a hand the house thinks you're playing if you're a...

A new ad by US orange juice promoters tries to scare consumers away from "chemical-packed" rivals

By Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.
Posted: Monday, September 12, 2005

This article first appeared on Spiked-Online on September 12, 2005:

A recent ad by U.S. orange juice promoters the Florida Department of Citrus -- referred to on its website as "The Laboratory" -- shamelessly plays on...

This piece appeared on NationalPost.com.

The recent proposed Canadian restrictions on products such as baby bottles containing the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) is but the latest unscientific legislation made possible in part by a dangerous prevailing assumption: namely, that anti-corporate claims are by definition "good science" while claims made in defense of industry or new technology -- by anyone with the slightest ties to industry -- are by definition "suspect science." Ironically, consumers end up paying higher prices as a result of such ostensibly consumer-protecting measures (as products need to be replaced or reformulated) or even end up using less...

“If it smells bad, it’s bad; if it smells good, it’s bad,” says Aileen Gagney, asthma and environmental health manager with the American Lung Association in Seattle. (1) Obviously then, the key to a healthy life is to have no smells around you. How unfortunate, since we are excellent smellers!

The tongue can detect sweetness at a dilution of one part in 200, saltiness at one in 400, sourness at one in 130,000, and bitterness at one in 2 million. (2) All of this pales when compared with our ability to detect extremely low levels of smells (i.e., in the range of 50 parts per trillion to 800 parts per billion. (3)

If you are inclined to agree with Ms. Gagney, perhaps you have nosophobia, the irrational fear of contracting a disease -- or perhaps I should say nose-ophobia,...

As if there weren't enough confusion in the universe of food vernacular (natural, GM-free, Earth-friendly...) there is a real word with real meaning that most people haven't even heard of—semisynthetic. And it has saved thousands of lives. 

There can be no better example of what semisynthesis can accomplish than Taxol, a cancer drug that is the first line treatment for ovarian cancer, and is also approved for about a dozen other cancers, usually the ones that are most difficult to treat. The drug is on the World Health Organization list of essential medicines. It's that important.

The story of how Taxol became a drug is fascinating, and also illustrates the power of synthetic organic chemistry, without which the drug would not be available. Taxol was first isolated from...

I've never been much for the word "tribe." It sounds too insular in 2018, the kind of term (see also "zeitgeist", "heteronormative", and "schadenfreude") thrown around by barely literate postmodernists with their heads in the clouds believing what they tell each other as the real world passes by.

That's not to say it isn't an accurate description of science media.

We certainly have tribes: There are progressive ideologues in large media corporations denying reality as they frame science belief (and denial) through their politics; there are academics who believe the public simply have a deficit of information and showing them some Powerpoint slides will fix it; we have zealots who believe every skeptical question must be met with fire and brimstone. 

Heck, we have...