The Ever-Dangerous Dihydrogen Monoxide

One of the most highly successful horror movies of all time was one that still scares a lot of folks my age–The Blair Witch Project. The story goes that three documentary film students go to this small town to do a project on the story of the Blair Witch. One student meets an untimely demise, and the story ends with the the other two finding something ominous. What what that ominous thing they found?

I mean seriously folks, what was it? What did the witch look like? The truth is that from the 1999 movie we don’t know. And that’s what terrified us. For all we know, it could be an angry leprechaun that was overly concerned about his pot of gold.

Angry Leperchaun

Let go of me lucky charms, or I’ll dice you up like a tomato.

That fear of the unknown isn’t confined to fiction. In the real world, the fear of the unknown is a natural, evolutionary response. Unfortunately, this response is easy prey for fear-mongers who either have decided upon a self-righteous crusade or are using people to make money (and oftentimes both).

A prime target for scare-producing media is a compound identified by its scientific name. One of the best examples of how silly this can be is the chemical dihydrogen monoxide. It is an undoubted fact that dihydrogen monoxide, under the right conditions, is one of the most dangerous compounds on the planet. It is responsible for a plethora of deaths each year, yet it is ubiquitous in everything from the food we eat to a variety of manufacturing processes. In true 21st century fashion, the only way to show how dangerous it really can be is through memes.

Now for the big reveal (in case you haven’t picked up on the ruse yet). Dihydrogen monoxide, two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom…H2O. The common name is water. From this, it is easy to see how our response to the fear of the unknown can be activated. Nothing said in my description or the memes is untrue, but it shows how selective presentation of information colors our response.

This tactic has been used against essentially all of us. Obviously I’ve seen the ways this has been used against agriculture, but no industry is unaffected, from manufacturing to services. We decry when it happens against us, but when we hear about an “evil” another is perpetuating, we fall for it hook, line and sinker.

It doesn’t matter if it is a network news program or a viral internet sensation, we get shivers when we are told of formaldehyde in our flooring, additives in our plastic cups, cell phones giving us brain cancer, and so on. But rather than talking to people who are in that industry, we trust the media or the internet first…the same sources that sensationalize stories about us.

Let’s take the power back from the rabble-rousers. If you hear about a practice that you are unsure of in a business different from your own (or government organization, for that matter), ask the people in that business politely why they are doing that. Chances are there is a legitimate reason. Let’s build bridges across the walls that sensationalists are putting between us. Let’s conquer the fear of the unknown by learning, together.