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Magic Water & Mencken’s Maxim

Social critic H. L. Mencken offers a lesson on how to respond to outrageous pseudoscientific claims
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Henry Louis Mencken was a stogie-chomping, QWERTY-pounding social commentator in the first half of the 20th century who never met a man or a claim he didn’t like … to disparage, critique or parody with wit that would shame Dennis Miller back to Monday Night Football. Stupidity and quackery were favorite targets for Mencken’s barbs. “Nature abhors a moron,” he once quipped. “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people,” he famously noted. Some claims are so preposterous, in fact, that there is only one rejoinder: “One horselaugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms.” I call this “Mencken’s maxim,” and I find that it is an appropriate response to preposterous claims made about magic water sold on the Web. I offer as a holotype of Mencken’s maxim the following: Golden ‘C’ Lithium Structured Water. (continue reading…)

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Bottled Twaddle

Is bottled water tapped out?
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In 1979 I started drinking bottled water. My bottles, however, contained tap water and were nestled in small cages on the frame of my racing bicycle.

Tap water was good enough then because we did not know how much healthier and tastier bottled water is. It must be, because Americans today spend more than $7 billion a year on it, paying 120 to 7,500 times as much per gallon for bottled water as for tap. Bottled prices range from 75 cents to $6 a gallon, versus tap prices that vary from about 80 cents to $6.40 per 1,000 gallons. We wouldn’t invest that for nothing, would we? Apparently we would. In March 1999 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published the results of a four year study in which they tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, finding that “an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle — sometimes further treated, sometimes not.” If the label says “from a municipal source” or “from a community water system,” it’s tap water. (continue reading…)

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