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All vs Some

Dear Reader,

Sadly one of the classic errors in thinking has shown its ugly face again, this is the issue of “all vs some”. This can be understood as a person thinking that because one example of a person, thing or idea from a class has one set of properties then all things from that class, set or group must share this property.

For example I know a Romanian woman who is a chemist who likes motorcycles and is training for her motorcycle license. Now I sincerely hope that none of readers would be so silly that they then think that all women from Romania are trained in chemistry and have a liking for motorcycles. But sadly when it comes to chemical substances a pandemic of this stupidity exists.

One area within chemistry where this occurs is “ionic liquids”, my own view of ionic liquids is that they are a very wide class of substances I was reading the news at chemistry world in which a comment “Ionic liquids have previously generated much excitement, but also some fierce criticism owing to some being toxic” was made. I would like to point out that this is a good example of “all vs some”. I will admit that some ionic liquids are perfectly horrible but the horrible nature of one ionic liquid does not change how nice/horrible the next one which you encounter is. One of the best books about how to think (straight and crooked thinking) in chapter two considers this problem of “all vs some”.

Plenty of ionic liquids exist which are made of food grade chemicals which are close to harmless, for example choline salts are used as vital nutrients in some animal feed. From choline salts it is possible to form ionic liquids with anions like lactate (carboxylic acid found in milk) can be made. Such an ionic liquid will not be toxic, it is possible to use it as food for growing microbes.

I think that we need to be careful of the “all vs some” problem, you will also get a reverse problem where a person attracted by the good features of one example of a set then assumes that all other examples of that class are equally good. While if you get lucky and find something which makes you happy or satisfies some other need it is reasonable to continue to search within that class for another example of that class which is equally good or even better. It is impossible to give any warranty that it will be possible to find a better example within the class.

For example carboplatin and cisplatin are drugs which can cure cancer, they contain platinum but it is unreasonable to then assume that all platinum compounds can cure cancer. Also despite the fact that a lot of platinum compounds have been screened as anticancer drugs, very few were found to be suitable for the treatment of cancer. The fact that cisplatin / carboplatin were so good does not make it a certinity that a new effective cancer treatment system based on platinum chemistry will be possible.

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