Nicholas Kristof and the Bad, Bad Chemical World

Source: Silsor, Wikimedia Commons
When I saw the NYT editorial by Nicholas Kristof, I was confused and outraged about his opinions on chemicals present everywhere are hazardous to our health. This simplistic view is indeed far from the reality and indeed “it’s complicated”. Yes, we are made of chemicals, everything is made of chemicals. Then you have our own and the ones that our body does not produce, these are the xenobiotics. In terms of evolution, our bodies have developed mechanism to deal with them and render them harmless or less harmful. This is all bout drug metabolism and liver, this is why anyone claiming you need to “detox” are just selling you some woo and snake oil, unless you are lacking a liver (but you would be dead by that time).
Yes, we need stricter regulations and we are coming from far in a century. But raising the scepter of fear without bringing the science behind (pharmacology, toxicology) to better understand it is very dangerous and a very slippery slope.
Here I share an article from Deborah Blum published as a blog post in PLoS in 2012 (h/t Mommy PhD) about an editorial also published by Kristof and also about chemicals.
“I’m a long-time fan of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. To be more specific, I’m a long-time fan of his work in social justice journalism, his passionate reporting of problems of others ignore, his dedication to helping people in traumatized regions of Africa. It’s outstanding work and, oh, how I wish he would stick to it. Because his secondary crusade of the last few years, you know, the one against evil industrial chemicals, is really starting to annoy me. This is not saying that he’s entirely wrong – there are evil industrial chemicals out there. And, in many cases, they aren’t as well researched or as well regulated¬† as they should be. But if we, as journalists, are going to demand meticulous standards for the study and oversight of chemical compounds then we should try to be meticulous ourselves in making the case. And much as I would like it to be otherwise, I don’t see enough of that in Kristof’s chemical columns.”

Source: Nicholas Kristof and the Bad, Bad Chemical World

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