Better Living through Chemistry

Doctors attending the American College of Emergency Physicians recently announced a problem with a certain household cleaner: it looks good enough to drink. David A. Masneri, who conducted the study in question, commented, “When looking at a bottle of Fabuloso—especially the yellow Limon, green Fresco Aman, and blue Ocean Fresh varieties—anyone will easily see a resemblance to certain popular beverages.” According to the Texas Poison Center, 104 people ingested Fabuloso during the first four months of 2006; more 60% were under the age of six.

I’d describe my initial reaction as rather intrigued (which perhaps sounds a little callous, but there you have it). The idea that people respond to specific visual cues fits very well into my ideas about how we process imagery and how well-developed our sense of “visual language” really is. Basically, the shape and color of the above bottle says, “Drink me!” Even to the under-six crowd! That’s really kind of astonishing. (Similarly, my idea about how many science visualizatons fail to communicate their ideas well is that they often fail to remove the scientific vernacular embedded in imagery used to communicate between peers. Again, I have a PowerPoint online that describes my ideas about visualization (but you need to read the comments on each slide, or else you’re just looking at a bunch of pretty pictures).

Of course, then the really scary aspect of this sunk in… We humans are conditioning ourselves to drink brightly- and artificially-colored liquids! After generations growing up on Gatorade and Pepsi Blue, we don’t even hesitate to put this stuff up to our lips. I’m glad I stick to healthier natural beverages—beer, for example.