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Are the chemical ingredients of a human really worth only a couple bucks?

Paul Ingraham ARCHIVEDMicroblog posts are archived and rarely updated. In contrast, most long-form articles on are updated regularly over the years (see updates page).

This is an idea that chemistry teachers have been repeating for decades without fact-checking it. In Bill Bryson’s charming 2019 tour of human physiology, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, he points out that serious efforts to estimate the cost of the ingredients for a human have produced vastly higher price tags. Pure carbon is rather precious, as are several other ingredients like calcium, phosophorus, and potassium:

Altogether, according to the RSC, the full cost of building a new human being, using the obliging Benedict Cumberbatch as a template, would be a very precise $151,578.46. Labor and sales tax would, of course, boost costs further. You would probably be lucky to get a take-home Benedict Cumberbatch for much under $300,000—not a massive fortune, all things considered, but clearly not the meager few dollars that my junior high school teacher suggested.

A hundred and fifty grand?! Too bad I’m already using all my chemicals.

What a great example of how many popular ideas, even in science, are just wrong.

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