[ home | contact dr. berk | archive | science q&a ] Updated: Niko-Niko Punsuka Hamuemon

Please Pass the Science
by dr. scott berk

Simplistic, misleading, and somewhat condescending. . . but never boring!


This message is in regard to Scott Berk's article on margarine. I refer you, Scott, to a couple of sources to help you see your ignorance. By the way, is your ignorance free, or are you paid by a company that manufactures margarine?

"Trans Fatty Acids and Their Effects on Lipoproteins in Humans" by Martijn B. Katan, Peter L. Zock, and Ronald P. Mensink Annual Review of Nutrition, (1995) 15 and The Zone - by Dr. Barry Sears (pp 123-125)

PS: Don't spread this ignorance any more, peoples very lives may depend on it!
-- name and address withheld

"People's very lives may depend on it"?!?
We're talking about margarine here, for goodness sake!

First off, since the margarine article was published in 1991, I could not have seen the 1995 review article to which you refer. Nor do I consider it my responsibility to publish a retraction based on more recent evidence that margarine may be bad for you. This is not how science works. If so, journals would be clogged with articles retracting previously held beliefs in light of new data. This would drown out the new data itself. Instead, it is up to the scientists (and the public, for that matter), to stay current.

Secondly, the article was a light-hearted, humorous stab at the fact that margarine was the same thing as Crisco. I wrote it because someone asked me what partially hydrogenated vegetable oil was, and I thought the margarine/Crisco thing was something that people could relate to. Again, I cannot overemphasize the whole "humor" concept here. The same magazine featured a cartoon milk and a cartoon cheese driving a car through a drive-in movie screen.

Thirdly, I am instantly biased against anybody who tells me that eating X is bad for you. Do you think eating margarine is worse than eating butter? The jury is probably still out on that, and it especially was in 1991. Do you think eating margarine is worse than smoking? Do you think eating margarine is worse than driving a car to the grocery store? It's all about risk vs. reward, buddy, and until someone does a well thought out controlled study of risk factors involved with eating margarine while driving a car vs. eating butter on whole wheat toast while talking on a cell phone, I'm pretty much sticking to the "everything in moderation" theory of healthy eating.

Finally, I am not paid by a company that manufactures margarine, although I am paid by a company that manufactures pharmaceuticals. Perhaps I'm secretly attempting to boost innocent reader's cholesterol levels so they will buy more cholesterol-lowering drugs! Jeez, first the HORMEL CONSPIRACY, now the MARGARINE CONSPIRACY. Here's a little tip -- if you want to have a reasoned debate with me, do not accuse me of a) being ignorant (doesn't really invite a calm, objective answer now, does it?) and b) being part of some kind of conspiracy (I'm part of ALL of them, dammit!) That said, I guess you got your anti-margarine references posted to this web site. Fight the power.


Dear Dr. Berk:

Is it true Spam(R) can be the base for an explosive? How?
-- name and address withheld

No. The whole Spam thing was a throwaway joke line in one of my articles. Of course, I could be a member of the HORMEL CONSPIRACY, spreading more lies and disinformation.


I enjoyed your article on styrofoams and it was very informative. Can you point me to other health implications on ingesting styrofoams or new compounds that may result when you use these cups for , say, lemonade or hot acidic soups. Thanks.



Polystyrene is a reasonably inert material. It would take a lot more than lemonade or hot soup to react with it. Even if it did, odds are that the food would functionalize the polymer and not vice versa. In other words, any nasties that may form (and again, I'm not sure that acidic foods are strong enough acids to react in the first place) would be chemically bound to the polymer and not in solution. Digestive acids may be strong enough to start breaking apart the polystyrene if ingested (although again I doubt it). In that case, eating polystyrene would be the equivalent of eating various styrene derivatives. I'd hazard a guess that eating barbecued meat is worse for you.

All this conjecture is just from a chemistry perspective. I am not a toxicologist or physician, so I'm not really that familiar with the literature available where you might find the specific information you're looking for. Taking a look at the OSHA "material safety data sheet" (MSDS) for polystyrene will tell you things like lethal dosages and all sorts of worst-case scenarios. Anybody who manufactures polystyrene should be able to provide you with an MSDS.

Hope this helped!


Is it not especially dangerous to heat styrofoam containers in your microwave? Does this not emit the gases into the air and to the ozone layer. I know the production of Styrofoam does this but putting a cup in the microwave and heating this is not good... right?

---- SK

I don't think it would be any worse than using styrofoam in the first place. If the blowing agents are indeed still locked up within the polymer crosslinks, they'll get out one way or another, eventually. Besides, the blowing agents now are lightweight hydrocarbons, not CFC's, so you're contributing to global warming instead of the destruction of the ozone layer. Ya just can't win! But in all seriousness, as I've said many times before, I'd be far more concerned with the environmental consequences of driving a car than of microwaving styrofoam.

[ home | contact dr. berk | archive | science q&a ]