Note: This article originally appeared in Nature Chemistry as part of their Blogroll section. You can see the original post here, though nothing was changed in its republication here, save for the postscript.
Recent advertising strategies in which ‘anti-science’ is equated with ‘all-natural’ have rubbed some scientists the wrong way.
Yoghurt maker Chobani earned the ire of the scientific community with a slogan that appeared on the lids of their new low-calorie Greek yoghurt. Piper Klemm was the first to tweet about the controversial catchphrase: ‘Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists. #howmatters’. Hundreds of tweets on the topic soon followed, as well as numerous blog posts by scientists decrying the belittling of science in advertising.
Writing at In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe offered a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the reason for the overwhelming response to the slogan, pointing out that despite Chobani’s desire to advertise an ‘all-natural’ product, mass-produced yoghurt requires a lot of food science. In fact, Chad Jones and John Coupland describe the chemistry involved in detail in a podcast at The Collapsed Wavefunction.
Chobani’s ‘natural vs scientific’ strategy of promoting foodstuffs isn’t new; bloggers have called out Finagle a Bagel on its ‘Bakers, not scientists’ campaign, and Whirlpool on their ‘Don’t drink from the Periodic Table’ ads. Paul Bracher‘s ‘chemophobia’ archive at ChemBark offers a compilation of examples where science and chemicals are demonized by advertisers.
These discussions highlight that such marketing strategies not only cater to, but also inform the public’s paranoia surrounding the term ‘chemical’. In his piece on The Blog, Joe Schwarcz addresses the confusion of ‘chemicals’ and ‘dangerous chemicals’. Science education — and communication — at all levels has never been more important than the present, where terms like ‘GMO’, ‘GIF’ and ‘chemical’ are misunderstood and feared as a result. It’s now time for the chemistry community to use these events as learning and teaching opportunities.
P.S. Following the publication of this article, Chobani sent me a hand-written card that thanked me for “sticking with [them]” and included a coupon for free yoghurt, which I have not yet collected. While I am not a vehement Chobani-hater (their intentions were misguided, not evil), I’d like to say for the record that I’m not on their side in the matter, either.