An ad for radium-laced cooking utensils

Here's to your health! I liked scientist and blogger Danielle Lee's take on this ad, others like it, and the history that they represent.

They teach us about how we as a society respond — eagerly — with the prospect of a new innovation, any, especially if it solves a problem. Today we know that Radium is dangerous. So why were these sold to the public before it was thoroughly vetted first? Well, it was vetted - to the best of science's ability then. And as a result of the new info & mistake discovered hindsight, we change course. But let's be clear - SCIENCE isn't the reason for this ad or marketing this product as the best thing ever. That's ECONOMICS. Often, the beef people have with innovation is due to the marketing and politics surrounding how society (we) will use them. The discovery itself isn't usually problematic. Just things to keep in mind as we continue to debate next steps in navigating life on this shrinking planet.

That said, I'd add that it's even more important to remember that science is part and parcel with society, not something forced upon society or something distinct from it. The two are inextricably intertwined. So a scientific discovery is also economic opportunity and societies decide how they'll use the thing in both those contexts and more. In reality, you can't really look at something like this and blame it on SCIENCE or ECONOMICS. Instead, we make mistakes like radium silverware together, as part of a process where society shapes science and then science shapes society and back again. The important thing is being willing to pay attention to the results, notice and acknowledge when we've made a wrong choice, and make sure a correction gets made.

Thanks to Greg Laden

Notable Replies

  1. I'd like to take advantage of this forum to let everybody know about my Homeopathic Dark Matter Detox Enemas.

  2. I'm only interested if it involves an ancient technique recently rediscovered, involves magnets, and has a champion who is downtrodden by "so called western medicine" smiley

  3. I didn't realize radium was used in utensils. Aside from the deleterious effects it must have been a wonderful way to keep utensils clean.

    This reminds me of a wonderful end note from Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon, when he brings up radium-infused water coolers:

    The most famous casualty of the radium craze was the steel tycoon Eben Byers, who drank a bottle of Radithor’s radium water every day for four years…The Wall Street Journal commemorated his death with the headline, “The Radium Water Worked Fine Until His Jaw Came Off.”

    Yeah, I sincerely hope that caused scientists and businesses alike to rethink the benefits of radium.

  4. Uranium glazes are very common -- they make a really nice reddish orange.
    The most famous radioactive pottery is Fiesta Ware, but almost any old pottery that features that orange color likely used Uranium glaze.

    Paul Frame maintains a "museum" of radioactive stuff at Oak Ridge Associated Universities:
    Radioactive Consumer Products

    Edit: for @stefanjones and @RyeNCode Vita Radium Suppositories (ca.1930) for ancient healing powers.

  5. It is true. Terrified of losing their cash cows, Big Pharma, the AMA, and the Reality Based Community are all trying to suppress the ancient Vedic healing modality of Homeopathic Dark Matter Detox Enemas, as practiced by the Mayans, Tibetians, and whatever other cultures feel most authentic, wise, and grounded to fans of faddish woo-woo bullshit.

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