Sunday AI: Going Chemical Free
I try really hard not to be an annoying academic. I generally don’t chide people when they call a beetle a “bug,” for example. But.
The trend to call things “Chemical Free” Must. Be. Stopped.
There are several different online projects documenting the spread of this term; my favorite is F No, “Chemical Free!”.
“Chemical free”, if you know anything about chemistry, is a meaningless marketing term. Pretty much everything bigger than an electron is made of chemicals. I am a huge lump of chemicals, typing on a laptop made of chemicals, sending my information to your chemicals for processing.
It is incredibly frustrating as an entomologist to see people talking about “chemical free pesticides.” What is actually meant, I think, is non-toxic; but that isn’t always correct either, since many “organic” pesticides can be quite toxic.
It might mean “natural”, but there isn’t much difference between plant-derived and synthesized compounds, other than cost. And you can kill yourself just as spectacularly with natural chemicals as synthetic ones.
How to deal with the ubiquity of “chemical free” slogans became a hot topic recently when some beers began to label themselves as chemical free. And one thing you do NOT do is fuck around with scientists’ beer. We take that shit seriously.
The Royal Society of Chemistry offered a million pounds in 2008 for anyone who can produce a material that is 100% chemical free. That wasn’t successful; they haven’t even been able to get the UK Advertising Standards Authority to require fertilizers or deodorants to drop the “chemical free” language on their packaging.
Words can have multiple meanings, and (some argue) this chemical-free horse has already left the barn, gone out the gate, and galloped into the next county. Marketers and media are using the words “chemical-free” to meet a need to communicate something, and just hollering at them that their use of the words is meaningless isn’t going to change anything.
“how do we go about re-branding/removing the term “chemical-free”? I think that one of the best ways to do this is by playing the marketing game ourselves. If chemists can come up with an alternate phrase that is as powerful AND also happens to be correct, we just may be able to phase out “chemical-free”.”
What do you think? What marketing phrase would you replace “chemical-free” with? Should the FTC get involved in regulating the packaging of “chemical free” products, since it’s a false claim?