Throughout the 90’s, widespread panic filled America regarding the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). Petitions were signed to outlaw the substance and emails discussing the common use of DHMO spread through the nation like wildfire. Policies were created and some government agencies even thought about enacting a ban.
Proponents discussed how DHMO is in virtually everything from shampoo to bombs, as well as its use in decontaminating food. DHMO was attributed to being the number one killer of children under the age of two, and in fact still is. The chemical, also known as hydroxyl acid makes up most of the content of acid rain, contributes to the greenhouse effect, can cause severe burns, is fatal if inhaled and contributes to erosion.
But that’s not all DMHO is responsible for. The substance also accelerates corrosion and rusting of metal, may cause electrical failure, decreases the effectiveness of automobile brakes and has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.
While these dangers exist and are thoroughly undisputed, DHMO is used in even more processes as well. It is used as an industrial solvent and coolant, is in nuclear plants, the production of Styrofoam, as a fire retardant, the distribution of pesticides and as an additive to certain food products.
In March 2004, the city of Aliso Viejo, California considered banning the use of Styrofoam containers at city functions due to the use of the dangerous dihydrogen monoxide in production of the products. Other similar policies have been considered and put in place throughout the country and even the world.
Still not concerned about DHMO?
Good. While all of the above claims regarding DHMO are true, the substance is necessary to maintain life. A more common name for DHMO or hydroxyl acid is water. While the dihydrogen monoxide hoax has been circulating for years, many still fall victim to the fear based concern regarding the dangers as did the City of Aliso Viejo only a few years ago.
A paralegal had requested that the issue of DHMO be put on the city council agenda, and later attributed it to lack of research. While the issue was yanked from the agenda before voting could ensue, it still created much bad publicity for the city.
Fear seems to fuel many of the decisions people make on a day to day basis and that is understandable. But when fear becomes news due to lack of information and research it demonstrates one of the major problems with society. Media has a tendency to only half check facts, or misrepresent issues and concerns to the public. Misinformation and half truths are spread daily by the news, journalists and politicians. The alarming number of people who swallow such things as fact contributes to many of today’s problems.
The voting process is saturated with such misinformation. Opinions and ideas are expressed as factual via political statements and television spots, raising alarm in many voters. While some voters may independently research ballet topics, the majority do not or utilize biased resources in the process. Ignorance and bandwagon voting seem to be the trend these days.
Fear wields power that very little can match. Fear creates arguments, deaths and wars and when mass hysteria breaks loose even facts can do little to diffuse the power fear holds over society. While many fear based issues do indeed maintain validity, factual information needs to be taken into account as well.
Diseases such as SARS, West Nile virus and Swine Flu have created widespread panic among the masses. Much of this is because of misrepresentation of facts in the media, where facts are used as the basis for stories yet not as content. When media sensationalizes issues for ratings, the general public suffers as a result. Every year a new illness or disease is highlighted as the “plague of the century” but when the statistics are put in to perspective the amount of concern is countered.
When society as a whole looks to the media and internet for information, fear becomes the base of beliefs rather than facts. Fear based beliefs have always been apparent in history, but little emphasis is placed on how fear continues to fuel decisions and thought in current times.
Perhaps the next time you watch the news or read a paper, you will stop to investigate. Knowledge is the antidote to fear, and it is time for society to stop fearing the things in the dark by shining the light of information on our media. Let’s stop allowing fear to pass as news.