I've been trying to teach my online students how to think critically and evaluate the reliability of what they read. In one of the assignment exercises I use for that purpose I have them go to the website describing research about Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) . After exploring the website they must complete a worksheet telling me the primary uses for DHMO and what the dangers are. Then they rank the website according to how informative, how interesting, and how reliable they find it to be. They rate how concerned they are about it and the overall value of the assignment.
My INTENTION was simply to get the students thinking. I assumed they had heard of the stuff before and were aware of its properties. I assumed wrong. Some of them are now quite worried about the impact that DHMO may have on health and the environment. I've raised all kinds of awareness, it seems.
This is a fairly typical response of those I am getting:
"Yes, I did get some value out of this assignment. I had never heard of DHMO before so it was interesting to learn about it and to be warned of the dangers. I do think it is worth incorportating because the majority of people may not have any idea about it at all. I know I didn't. The thing that was really concerning to me is that it seems to be present in a lot or just about everything we come into contact with on a daily basis. I think it would be very benenficial for others to learn about DHMO as well."
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, while DHMO IS useful as a solvent and cleaning agent, and undoubtedly has many uses in agriculture, it is true people have died from inhaling it, can be seriously burned by the gaseous form, or suffer tissue damage from the solid form of the substance.
DHMO has been deliberately ingested by high performance athletes who believe it may increase their strength and stamina. Those same athletes have been found to secrete the stuff in their urine, through their pours, and even leak it out of their eyes.
DHMO is used extensively in the dairy industry, consequently high levels of it are found in milk. Yep, that stuff we feed to babies and little kids is just chock full of DHMO.
DHMO contributes to the corrosion of metals, is a major component of acid rain, and is often a component of nuclear waste, the stuff is so pervasive in our environment there is just no escaping it. It has been found in every lake, river and stream known to man - even in the oceans.
While there has been some limited study of the long term impact of DHMO, many people just assume that it is safe and show amazingly little concern about how extensively it is used as an additive to all sorts of products.
So I guess I should be glad I can do my part to raise awareness.