Dihydrogen monoxide hoax

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"Dihydrogen monoxide" redirects here. For the H2O molecule, see Properties of water.
The subject of the hoax, water molecules, consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom

The dihydrogen monoxide hoax involves calling water by the unfamiliar chemical name "dihydrogen monoxide" (DHMO), and listing some of water's effects in an alarming manner, such as the fact that it accelerates corrosion and can cause severe burns. The hoax often calls for dihydrogen monoxide to be regulated, labeled as hazardous, or banned. It illustrates how the lack of scientific literacy and an exaggerated analysis can lead to misplaced fears.[1] The hoax works because "dihydrogen monoxide" may sound dangerous to those with a limited knowledge of chemistry or who hold to an ideal of a "chemical-free" life (chemophobia).[2]

The hoax gained renewed popularity in the late 1990s when a 14-year-old student collected anti-DHMO petitions for a science project about gullibility. The story has since been used in science education to encourage critical thinking.


A 1983 April Fool's edition of the Durand Express, a weekly newspaper in Durand, Michigan, reported that "dihydrogen oxide" had been found in the city's water pipes, and warned that it was fatal if inhaled, and could produce blistering vapors.[3] The first appearance of the hoax on the internet was attributed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the so-called "Coalition to Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide,"[4][5] a parody organization started by Craig Jackson following the initial newsgroup discussions.

This new version of the hoax was created by Eric Lechner, Lars Norpchen, and Matthew Kaufman—housemates while attending the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1989,[6] revised by Jackson in 1994,[4] and brought to widespread public attention in 1997 when Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student, gathered petitions to ban "DHMO" as the basis of his science project, titled "How Gullible Are We?".[2]

Jackson's original site included the following warning:[7]

Dihydrogen monoxide:[8]

Despite the danger, dihydrogen monoxide is often used:

A mock material safety data sheet—a list of information about potentially dangerous materials used in research and industry—has also been created for H2O.[9][10]

Molecular terminology and naming conventions[edit]

The water molecule has the chemical formula H2O, meaning each molecule of water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Literally, the term "dihydrogen monoxide" means "two hydrogen, one oxygen", consistent with its molecular formula: the prefix di- in dihydrogen means "two", the prefix mon- in monoxide means "one", and an oxide is a compound that contains one or more oxygen atoms.[11]

Using chemical nomenclature, various names for water are in common use within the scientific community. Some such names include hydrogen oxide, as well as an alkali name of hydrogen hydroxide, and several acid names such as hydric acid, hydroxic acid, hydroxyl acid, and hydroxilic acid. The term "hydroxyl acid" used in the original text is a non-standard name.[12]

Under the 2005 revisions of IUPAC nomenclature of inorganic chemistry, there is no single correct name for every compound.[13] The primary function of chemical nomenclature is to ensure that each name refers, unambiguously, to a single substance. It is considered less important to ensure that each substance should have a single name, although the number of acceptable names is limited.[13] Water is one acceptable name for this compound, even though it is neither a systematic nor an international name and is specific to just one phase of the compound. The other IUPAC recommendation is oxidane.[14]

Public efforts involving DHMO hoax[edit]

DHMO in education and debate[edit]

The DHMO hoax has been used in science education to encourage critical thinking and discussion of the scientific method.[34][35]

An editorial may argue "The point here is that it’s easy to make anything sound like it’s scary. People drown in water every day, and water is used as a flame retardant. People tend to assume that things with scary names and vague descriptions are bad for you"[36] or "search online for information about dihydrogen monoxide, and you'll find a long list of scary and absolutely true warnings about it: used by the nuclear power industry, vital to the production of everything from pesticides to Styrofoam, present in tumors removed from cancer patients, and guaranteed fatal to humans in large quantities."[37] before making a case that the world is made up entirely of chemicals and that not all chemicals are bad for you.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carder, L; Willingham, P.; Bibb, D. (2001), "Case-based, problem-based learning: Information literacy for the real world", Research Strategies 18 (3): 181–190, doi:10.1016/S0734-3310(02)00087-3 .
  2. ^ a b c d Dihydrogen Monoxide from Urban Legends Reference Pages, retrieved 2006-09-25.
  3. ^ "April Fool's Day, 1983". Museum of Hoaxes. Archived from the original on 18 April 2001. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Kruszelnicki, Karl S. (2006), Mysterious Killer Chemical, Australian Broadcasting Corporation 
  5. ^ Roddy., Dennis B. (1997), Internet-inspired prank lands 4 teens in hot water, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (published April 19, 1997) 
  6. ^ Erich Lechner (February 23, 1990), Warning! Dangerous Contamination! (original usenet posting), Usenet rec.humor.funny archive 
  7. ^ a b Craig Jackson (1994), Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide!, Coalition to ban DHMO, archived from the original on 1996-10-31 Coalition to ban DHMO officers, Coalition to ban DHMO, archived from the original on 1997-01-25 
  8. ^ "Ban Di-hydrogen Monoxide!". 
  9. ^ "DHMO Material Safety Data Sheet". Improbable Research. 
  10. ^ "Material Safety Sheet – DiHydrogen Monoxide". DHMO.org. 
  11. ^ Van Bramer, S.E. (1996), Chemical Nomenclature 
  12. ^ "/www.bluelaketec.com". Bluelake Technologies. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  13. ^ a b IUPAC Report: General Aims, Functions and Methods of Chemical Nomenclature (March 2004)
  14. ^ Leigh, G. J. et al. 1998. Principles of Chemical Nomenclature: A Guide to IUPAC Recommendations, p. 99. Blackwell Science Ltd, UK. ISBN 0-86542-685-6
  15. ^ Original Poster Circulated at UC Santa Cruz; (PDF)
  16. ^ "Hydrogen Hydroxide: Now More Than Ever!". Armory.com. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  17. ^ Glassman, James K (1997). "Dihydrogen Monoxide: Unrecognized Killer". The Washington Post. 
  18. ^ Campaign launched against dihydrogen monoxide, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 1, 1998 
  19. ^ "Greens Support Ban On Water!". Scoop Independent News. 2001-10-25. 
  20. ^ a b Gnad, Megan (2007-09-14). "MP tries to ban water". New Zealand Herald. 
  21. ^ "Neal Boortz to Hang Up the Headphones". Fellowship of the Minds. 2012-06-05. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  22. ^ "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" Environmental Hysteria (2003), Internet Movie Database 
  23. ^ Local officials nearly fall for H2O hoax, at MSNBC March 15, 2004, Retrieved 2006-09-25.
  24. ^ Water without hydrogen would warrant warning, Louisville Courier-Journal, Monday, July 17, 2006 (link inactive as of Friday, May 18, 2007)
  25. ^ Danger! H in H2O, Chemical & Engineering News, October 23, 2006 webcite mirror
  26. ^ Petition to "Ban dihydrogen monoxide" on UK Government e-petitions Web site
  27. ^ "Questions And Answers – Wednesday, September 12, 2007". Scoop. September 13, 2007. 
  28. ^ "PDF file of related correspondence" (PDF). Scoop. September 13, 2007. 
  29. ^ "Regina-qu'appelle mp tables legislation to ban dihydrogen monoxide". 2010-04-01. 
  30. ^ Pitäisikö lakia tiukentaa vetyhapon saatavuuden ja käytön osalta?, Sosiaalinen Vaalikone, February 25, 2011, archived from the original on 2013-05-29 
  31. ^ "Florida DJs are Off the Hook for Their Successful April Fool's Prank". The Atlantic Wire. April 3, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-11. 
  32. ^ "Presenters suspended for April Fool hoax". Radio Today. April 1, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-02. 
  33. ^ "2 radio personalities suspended due to April Fools' Day prank". WFTV. April 2, 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-02. 
  34. ^ Joel J. Mintzes, William H. Leonard, eds.; Handbook of College Science Teaching; National Science Teachers Association; 2006; p. 264; ISBN 0873552601.
  35. ^ Donald M. Simanek, John C. Holden; Science Askew: A Light-hearted Look at the Scientific World; CRC Press; 2001; p. 71; ISBN 0750307145.
  36. ^ "No danger in name of a chemical". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 
  37. ^ "Coca-Cola to remove “flame retardant” from American drinks". ConsumerAffairs.com. Retrieved 2014-06-08. 

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