Dihydrogen Monoxide, Die!

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Your local officials at work. "Embarrassing" doesn't begin to cover this one.

Calif. Officials Nearly Fall for H2O Hoax
The Associated Press
ALISO VIEJO, Calif.

City officials were so concerned about the potentially dangerous properties of dihydrogen monoxide that they considered banning foam cups after they learned the chemical was used in their production.

Then they learned, to their chagrin, that dihydrogen monoxide _ H2O for short _ is the scientific term for water.

"It's embarrassing," said City Manager David J. Norman. "We had a paralegal who did bad research."

The paralegal apparently fell victim to one of the many official looking Web sites that have been put up by pranksters to describe dihydrogen monoxide as "an odorless, tasteless chemical" that can be deadly if accidentally inhaled.

As a result, the City Council of this Orange County suburb had been scheduled to vote next week on a proposed law that would have banned the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events. Among the reasons given for the ban were that they were made with a substance that could "threaten human health and safety."

The measure has been pulled from the agenda, although Norman said the city may still eventually ban foam cups.

"If you get Styrofoam into the water and it breaks apart, it's virtually impossible to clean up," Norman said.

[Thanks to Adrian Moore, director of The Reason Public Policy Institute]

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  1. Next they’ll require the cups to have a circumference three times their diameter.

  2. Supposedly it says in the Bible that pi is equal to 3. Now and then a spoof article comes out claiming that Alabama public schools will teach that pi = 3 from now on.

    I wonder if somebody could persuade a politician to sponsor a bill declaring pi equal to 3.

  3. thoreau

    I also remember reading the same thing some time ago.

    http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a3_341.html

    “It happened in Indiana. Although the attempt to legislate pi was ultimately unsuccessful, it did come pretty close. In 1897…”

  4. “Now and then a spoof article comes out claiming that Alabama public schools will teach that pi = 3 from now on.”

    There was a related spoof on the Onion several years ago in which conservative Christians were lobbying to overturn the second law of thermodynamics. Article here:

    http://www.theonion.com/onion3631/christian_right_lobbies.html

    There’s a priceless picture in the article where a woman is holding a sign that reads “I don’t accept fundamental tenets of science AND I VOTE”

  5. It’s a funny bit, but it’s unfair to criticize them for not knowing that “dihydrogen monoxide” is “the scientific term for water.” The only places “dihydrogen monoxide” means water is in the parody literature. Everywhere else, the scientific term for water is “water.”

    That’s not to say that the Aliso Viejo officials shouldn’t have done a teensy bit more research…

  6. Mark-

    It’s not that they didn’t know what dihydrogen monoxide means (although that is pretty sad). It’s that they just heard of a chemical with a long name and some scary rhetoric and immediately tried to “do something!” rather than get more info.

  7. Yeah, those idiots should be embarrassed, but somehow I think the city manager will brush it off in no time – not sure if I could say the same for the global warming supporters. It will be really hard to tell whether they are embarrassed or not, as it’ll be hard to see the flushed faces as they freeze their freakin’ asses off in the upcoming ICE AGE.

    ha…

  8. Mark said: “It’s a funny bit, but it’s unfair to criticize them for not knowing that “dihydrogen monoxide” is ‘the scientific term for water.'”

    I have to disagree here – you won’t find “dihydrogen monoxide” in any scientific literature, but anyone who’s taken a middle school chemistry class should be able to make a good guess at what it is. I would certainly hope that someone in charge of making such policy decisions would know enough chemistry to translate “dihydrogen monoxide” in “water.”

    I also have to second Thoreau that it’s pretty disturbing that someone who obviously _didn’t_ know enough to figure out what dihydrogen monoxide is would nevertheless be happy to ban it.

  9. The value for pi which was nearly legislated in Indiana wasn’t 3. As the linked article notes, it’s hard to tell what the legislated value would have been.

    Here’s a link to a filk song on dihydrogen monoxide, written by a friend of mine:

    http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/~susan/sf/filk/dhmo.htm

  10. im just surprised that they didn’t catch this… one would assume that a bylaw would use the scientific notaion of the chemical, as well as the scientific name, for any attempts to control it. especially as many chemicals share names.. just think of alcohol… a typo can send you from ethanol to methanol… and a rather major difference in effect and required regulation, while using the proper notation makes it harder to screw up…

  11. Every day, millions of people ingest this stuff, openly and willingly. Where is the ONDCP on this one?

  12. “…one would assume that a bylaw would use the scientific notaion of the chemical, as well as the scientific name, for any attempts to control it. especially as many chemicals share names…”

    That might work for relatively simple chemicals, but for more chemically complex materials, like proteins for instance, it might not work.

  13. Yeah, I drink the stuff, sometimes straight…and it feels good.

    I’ll do it again, too. I’m a rebel.

  14. “We had a paralegal who did bad research.”

    Maybe their first mistake was putting a legal person in charge of researching what was essentially a technological or scientific issue.

    It really sounds like they already had their minds made up and they just got somebody to whip up some impressing sounding justifications for it.

    Environmentalism in a nutshell.

  15. DHMO is a killer compound ,and when mixed with large amounts of Scotch it causes severe head injuries.

  16. I take it these folks never watched Penn and Teller’s show “Bullshit.”

    “Dihydrogen monoxide is used by the nuclear industry. . . .its consumption can cause vomiting or excessive urination. . .”

    Maybe that’s why we invaded Iraq. “Saddam Hussein is so evil, his palaces have dihydrogen monoxide ON TAP!!!”

  17. Gee… and I thought me collecting signatures on campus to ban the stuff (a few years after original prank came out and after the above website went online) was funny…

  18. The site my name links to, that is – and it is not mine, to be sure.

  19. Penn and Teller’s show was hilarious…saw it a few weeks ago. They passed around a petition seeking to ban dihydrogen monoxide around one of those Greenpeace-type conventions. I think most everyone fell for it. Did none of them take basic chemistry in high school?

  20. “That might work for relatively simple chemicals, but for more chemically complex materials, like proteins for instance, it might not work.”

    I would certainly agree that some form of complex scientific notation could be difficult to use for some chemicals, like proteins and some other biological macromolecules, but we’re talking about water here. It doesn’t get much simpler – two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. I certainly hope the di- and mono- prefixes didn’t throw them off. How could anyone in charge of helping make policy decisions based on chemistry knowledge not know that water is H2O? I find it pretty baffling.

  21. Wait till they discover all the nitrogen in the air we breathe.

  22. Reminds me of “The Man’s Show” prank a few years ago when they passed around a petition – to women – that proposed ending women’s suffrage.
    Most of them signed it.

  23. The US Navy is conducting top secret experiments to utilize and control dihydrogen monoxide reserves in time of war. Even the most grandiose neocon scheme pales by comparison…

  24. Well there is one thing to be said for them, quite apart from the goof, they saw something, thought it was wrong and tried to fix it. Surely that must count in their favor? Others see something that IS wrong and ignore it.

  25. It’s sad…not even governers the people who represent your state know how to deal with a simple retarded water scare thats been on the internet for 5 years.

  26. Snopes.com just (Monday, March 16) enshrined the Aliso Viejo city council. Story here

    http://www.snopes.com/toxins/dhmo.htm.

    The City Manager’s comments, “We had a paralegal who did bad research,” is scary. That would mean that someone who has a heck of a lot more legal training than I do (the paralegal) didn’t take three minutes to use their mind. And isn’t a city manager responsible for what happens in the city government chambers? I guess not. He has to blame one of his workers, instead of apologizing to his constituents for letting it get this far. Grrr.

    I’m just glad we live in a country where we can talk about this kind of stuff, instead of having to worry about surviving the night.

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