Wiping "chemical-free" off the marketing map

Scientists and journalists join forces to name and shame the marketers who use the nonsensical phrase "chemical-free", and come up with better options.


  1. A poorly-worded ad for sunscreen and bug spray sparks the usual eye-rolling among chemistry-friendly folks on Twitter.
  2. But this particular picture attracted the attention of enterprising Knight Science Journalism Fellow Mary Carmichael, a regular contributor to Newsweek. Mary decided to create a photo blog designed for "naming and shaming the marketers" who use the meaningless phrase chemical-free.

  3. Award-winning writer Ed Yong of Discover Blogs learns about Mary's Tumblr and tweets about a chemical terminology pet peeve of his own. He's humorously seconded by former C&EN intern Raychelle Burks (@DrRubidium on Twitter), now Editor-in-Commandant of science humor site The JAYFK.

  4. Pulitzer-Prizewinning author Deborah Blum, a pioneer of the crusade against "chemical-free", asked whether she could use the offending photo in a blog post. The perfect posting opportunity for Blum came just days later, when the New York Times published an article mentioning "chemical-free" mineral makeup. Tipped off to the Times piece by Princeton professor Leonid Kruglyak, Blum sprang into blogging action. And Carmichael, Kruglyak, and Burks write letters to the Times to protest the scientifically-incorrect wording.

  5. More chemistry journalists rally behind the anti-chemical free cause.
  6. Freelance journalist Jill U. Adams (a contributor to Science, Nature, LA Times, and more) notes that journalists need a phrase that's a short and snappy as "chemical-free", but that's more scientifically accurate.