DHMO Hoax: There’s WHAT in my water?!

Building on from my previous theme of Science Scandals (click here to see my post on the MMR Vaccine-Autism scare), one very common scandal that is still seen today is the DHMO Hoax.

DHMO is a chemical that is used in a large variety of industries. It is a major component for oven cleaners, bleaches, pesticides and coolants and is a major part of nuclear reactions. It has been known to cause adverse affects if it comes in contact with the human body or the environment. Some of these adverse affects include:

  • Major component of acid rain
  • Contributes to the “greenhouse effect”.
  • May cause severe burns.
  • Contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape.
  • Accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals.
  • May cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.
  • Has been found in excised tumours of terminal cancer patients.
  • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities.

Those who are against DHMO say it is absurd that a chemical that causes this much damage is constantly used in the production of our food and drink. Surveys have shown that the public were unaware of these facts and supported banning the substance.

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But what is DHMO?

If we look into DHMO a little more carefully then we can see that DHMO stands for Dihydrogen Monoxide, which is the chemical name for H2O, more commonly known as water! Yes, everyday, normal water that covers two-thirds of the Earth’s surface! This hoax  shows how if science is presented in certain ways,misconceptions are made. If we have a second look at the facts presented above, it can be clearly seen how the presentation of scientific facts can scare the public.

DHMO (Water) has been known to cause adverse affects on the human body and the environment, some examples include:

  • Major component of acid rain –  What is rain made of? Water! 
  • Contributes to the “greenhouse effect”. –  Water is part of our atmosphere and therefore involved in the “greenhouse effect”
  • May cause severe burns. –Have you ever put your hand in boiling water? 
  • Contributes to the erosion of our natural landscape. – Erosion of landscapes are often caused by rivers which contain (guess what) water!
  • Accelerates corrosion and rusting of many metals. – Water is a major part of corrosion and rust.
  • May cause electrical failures and decreased effectiveness of automobile brakes.- Have you ever dropped your phone in the bath or down the toilet? Water is commonly known to short-circuit electronics and damage brakes.
  • Has been found in excised tumours of terminal cancer patients. – Water is part of all cell types in the body, including cancerous ones.
  • Death due to accidental inhalation of DHMO, even in small quantities. – Ever had a choking fit from water ‘going down the wrong way’? 

But does anyone actually fall for this? Does it actually change anything? Actually, it does! This isn’t about people simply misunderstanding science. This is about people explaining science in a certain way to cause chaos and distrust towards the scientific community. For people who don’t realise DHMO is ordinary water, this can become a huge issue with very prominent people attempting to ban DHMO! Since it began in the 1990s, multiple people have come with calls to ban DHMO. Two politicians from New Zealand alone, Sue Kedgley in 2001 and Jacqui Dean in 2007, have released (and later retracted) statements supporting the ban of DHMO. For those who don’t realise the satire behind this hoax, it becomes a conspiracy theory of governments allowing this dangerous chemical to go unchecked.

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Often there is no malicious intent behind this hoax and it is used to highlight how if something sounds scientific, we  believe it as correct. It has been used for a number of April Fools jokes around the world, however not all have been received in such a light-hearted manner. My personal favourite use of this hoax is the Facebook page ‘Dihydrogen Monoxide Awareness‘ which commonly shares photos of how DHMO is used in industry and has recently funded a mockumentory on DHMO. I have been using their photos throughout this post.

 

 

The DHMO hoax at its core is all about how science is presented to the public. The science itself says ‘water can be harmful in certain situations’ however as it is presented with complex scientific jargon, it appears as a dangerous chemical that has not been checked. Afterall, water is a fundamental to survival of life! 

 

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Science Scandals: Anti-Vaccination

The science community, just like any other community, has had its fair share of scandals over the years with one of the most well known being the ‘Anti-Vaccination’ movement.

Vaccinations are used by medical professionals to protect or immunise patients from diseases. They use weaker versions of a disease, or group of diseases, that are injected into the body. Our body’s immune system of white blood cells are activated and easy destroy these weak strains of diseases. One member of the immune system, B-Cells, remembers the disease so that if it comes into contact with it again, the disease can be easily and quickly destroyed.

Those in the movement have been found to be against vaccinations for a number of reasons, ranging from religious reasons to fears about safety. Many believe that the vaccination procedure causes more harm than good, with a specific belief that vaccinations cause Autism. This began when a paper published by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 claimed that children who had the MMR vaccination (that uses the virus for Measles, Mumps and Rubella) had an increased chance of developing autism. The paper was published in The Lancet, a very well regarded academic medical journal, and was quickly grasped by the media posting headlines such as ‘MMR Killed My Daughter’ and ‘New evidence shows MMR link to autism’ over the years. The study’s affects has been one of the major factors in a decrease of children receiving the MMR vaccine as well as outbreaks of measles in recent years.

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An image of the Rubella virus under a microscope. Image taken from The Telegraph. Photo credit: The Science Picture Company

The original paper looked at 12 children who were brought to Dr Wakefield and his colleagues with gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and abdominal pains (stomach cramps). These children had also recently started developing behavioural disorders, most commonly being autism which was noted to be after the MMR vaccine. However, his study was retracted in 2010 for accusations of ethical and scientific misconduct. Specifically, Dr Wakefield had not disclosed that he was partially funded by families suing the vaccine companies, had not received permission for invasive procedures on children and accusations of fraud, i.e. making up or selectively ignoring data.All these accusations led to an enquiry by the General Medical Council who stripped Dr Wakefield of his licence.

Numerous studies have now been conducted over the last decade into the link between MMR and Autism and these have collectively found that there is no link between the MMR Vaccine and development of Autism, however this confirmation of the vaccine’s safety cannot reverse the damage caused by this MMR-Autism scare.