Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Total Bollocks




“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea.

And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.”

– John F. Kennedy, speaking at a dinner for the America’s Cup in September 1962 .



This must be the most often repeated JFK quote in the sailing blogosphere.

It's so poetic. So romantic. It explains why we are drawn to the sea. And sailing.

It's also total bollocks (to use the Real English vernacular.)



Here is a chart showing the relative concentrations (in mg per liter) of various elements in blood and seawater (from http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v3/n1/sodium-chloride-abiogenesis)


Common salt is sodium chloride. As you can see the concentrations of sodium and chlorine in seawater and blood are vastly different. We do NOT have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean. Nowhere near the same.



Mr. President, I studied science. I know science. Science was a friend of mine. Mr. President, you were a fine president and an eloquent orator, but you were no scientist.



Can everyone please stop repeating this nonsense?


13 comments:

Baydog said...

Geeze, you're the last person I thought would have called JFK out on that one. It does sound good though, doesn't it? And Tillerman, if you are a scientist, why did you make candy bars for so long?

Bursledon Blogger said...

Nice to see British vernacular being adopted Stateside rather than the other way around - or maybe I'm just talking bollocks

Tillerman said...

Baydog, my first job was as a research scientist for a major chemical company. But I decided I was more interested in IT and the candy company was offering a great IT management training program at the time. In spit of the rumor that my job was putting the squiggles in the chocolate on the bars, I actually worked in IT for the rest of my career.

JFK was one of my heroes as a boy but facts are facts. Can't let politicians get away with telling whoppers.

Amy Smith Linton said...

As humans, we love stories -- and sometimes the truth needs a bit of polishing to become a good story.

jim katz said...

C'mon, cut the president a break here, and all the others who have repeated this including my biology teachers long before Kennedy repeated it. The point was not to titrate saline solutions, but to marvel at the inspiration of the sea and our origins that are inextricably tied to it. When you take the narrow precision of the expert in any field, the popular-etymology interpretations of things fails the tests, but it doesn't reduce the fact that these kinds of explanations help us make general sense of our world. Science really does this as well. We hang in there with a theory as long as it explains reality pretty well and until the next better theory comes along. Classical Newtonian physics works fine for most of us earth dwellers, but along comes the quantum physicist saying "well actually it isn't quite like that at all...." Don't let the inaccurate but comforting understandings of us civilians get your sailing shorts in a knot. If the Kennedy quote brings a few more people to appreciate the sea, want to protect and interact with it and perhaps go sailing, well that is just fine with me.

meech said...

This makes me think of a recent fascinating Radio Lab episode talking about the change in the number of days in a year. In the same way perhaps the ocean's mineral content has changed over the millenia being a lot lower at one time? Seems like a pretty silly quote from JFK... he's just a politician but it seems he should have done more research on that one.

Tillerman said...

Meech, there is a theory that the salinity of our blood matches more closely that of ancient oceans but there doesn't seem to be much convincing evidence of that.

Amy and Jim, I do understand the argument that this is a sort of poetic truth rather than a scientific truth. But personally, even if what JFK said was true, I don't find the salinity of my blood a particularly motivating reason to go and sail my Laser. There are all sorts of reasons why I love being on the ocean but I never ever consider my blood chemistry as being one of them.

And if someone is going to wax poetic to explain a human yearning, that's fine, but I don't think you should start your explanation with "it is an interesting biological fact that" and repeat a gross mistruth about "exact same percentage."

Chris Partridge said...

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\f0\fs26 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0
\outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 My top Xmas present this year was The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth. JFK features a lot, starting with his addiction to chiasmus ('ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country'). Your JFK quote uses polysindeton ('the sea changes and the light changes and ships change'), epistrophe (change....change....change), tricolon ('blood...sweat...tears') and even a little pleonasm ('from whence'). What an orator he was.

Tillerman said...

Well said, Chris. It's not every day I learn so many new words from one comment on this blog.

O Docker said...

Like any politician, JFK got away with what he could. (There are much juicier examples than this.)

And he got away with this one for as long as he needed - until the end of the evening. After that, who would bother questioning him about it? With no iPhones or Mr. Google, he was pretty safe assuming he would.

But how memorable would the line have been if he'd said,

"...it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins, 29.81 per cent of the salt in our blood that exists in the ocean."

This is why he became president while the rest of us only write blog posts about becoming president.

Tillerman said...

Ted Sorensen probably wrote it anyway. And he came from Nebraska, so what did he know about the ocean or sailing?

meech said...

I'm guessing that's his speech writer and he's the one who was being poetic but should have been doing the research. When I've tasted my blood, it's salty but nothing like seawater. How many secret servicemen have to accompany you on a sailing dingy if you want to go do your own research as president?

Pandabonium said...

My wife is not a native speaker of English (on either side of the Atlantic) and she often misinterprets what I say by taking everything literally. Ruins most of my jokes.

I fear that you are doing the same. Stretch your imagination a bit and understand that JFK, even if misinformed on the chemical details, was speaking to a broader concept. The fact is, we did evolve from the sea and we still require it today to sustain the biosphere, including our lives, in very many ways.

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