Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Chemicals and Other Triggerwords: The suspects


As spectacles of modern chemical engineering such as GM foods and vaccines hit the mainstream media, there are those who would look to drown them. Many of those opposing forces will attempt to persuade their followers by highlighting the engineering and manipulations of the chemical world by ‘big pharma’ and other illusive illuminati-like industries. In this blog I will be discussing a few groups who aid in blurring the border between pseudoscience and peer reviewed science, and in turn promote chemophobia and fear of the unknown.

Some misconceptions

Pseudoscience is defined by as being “A collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method”. The anti-vaccine movement falls under this umbrella.

Formaldehyde and false claims and other groups claim that vaccines contain dangerous concentrations of chemicals such as formaldehyde and Aluminium. Scepticism is an important aspect of science and should be practised in all aspects of our lives to a certain degree. That being said, it is vital to mix scepticism with understanding. Formaldehyde may be “used to embalm corpses”, that does not mean that embalming fluid is being mixed into our vaccines. Concentration determines the toxicity of a compound.

A vaccine may contain 0.1 mg of formaldehyde per dose compared to an apple that can have between 0.1 and 0.6 mg. If you were to drink embalming fluid straight from the bottle however you would very likely be left in a dire state. Formaldehyde is also considered a carcinogen. Concentration is the key in this case as well. Trace amounts have low risk of causing cancer, similar to how phenolphthalein (one of the most common pH indicators used in secondary schools) is carcinogenic in high concentrations but when used in high school experiments every child doesn’t need to wear a face mask to prevent them from dying.

Natural does not mean healthy

These groups normally present an advertisement for a ‘natural alternative’ or a plea to only use ‘natural’ products that can replace vaccines. The problem with these phrases is that the term ‘natural’ in this context refers to naturally derived chemicals, which can range from the Botulinum toxin to the water that we drink. Just because a chemical used to grow food comes from out of the Earth does not mean that the chemical is safer for human consumption than a synthetically made chemical.


False science is teaching the public to be afraid of any chemical that has a name longer than 2 syllables. Being cautious of what you put in your body is not necessarily terrible but the issue is that many do not investigate further than the information presented to them by pseudoscientists looking to profit from those who don’t know better. So the misinformation gets spread throughout social media and the interwebs that massive companies are spraying chemtrails in the sky and putting mercury in the water. Without proper knowledge of science and chemistry, information gathering will be replaced by a Chinese whispers of paranoia and false statements which will in turn further increase this fear of the unknown beginning to plague society. 

Featured image references:

Reference list:

oxford dictionaries, [accessed 30th of April]

natural news, [accessed 30th of April]

the conversation, [accessed 30th of April]

the cancer council, [accessed 30th of April]

National toxicology program, [accessed 30th of April]

NCBI, [accessed 30th of April]


One comment on “Chemicals and Other Triggerwords: The suspects

  1. Pingback: Chemicals and Other Triggerwords- A disaster in the making | Deakin Communicating Science 2016

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