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Naturals: The New Cosmetic Religion
By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD, JW Solutions
Posted: December 7, 2010
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Shermer goes on to argue that some scientists do indeed sin. “Given the fiercely competitive nature of research funding and the hardscrabble intensity of scientific status seeking, it is surprising that fraud isn’t more rampant. The reason that it is so rare (compared with, say, corruption in politics) is that science is designed to detect deception (of one’s self and others) through collaboration, graduate student monitoring, peer review, experimental corroboration and results replication. The general environment of openness and honesty, nonetheless exists and in the long run weeds out the cheats and exposes frauds and hoaxes, as history has demonstrated itself,” he states.
Shermer's argument made me wonder whether cosmetic scientists that believe in naturals deliberately perpetrate fraud. I sincerely do not think so. They truly seem to believe that natural raw materials are better. When I make my usual joke of “Want something green, natural and organic? Try a green mamba!” they are not amused. After all, I’m ridiculing their faith but they cannot defend themselves.
This column's provocative title tries to link the evidence for the existence of God to the evidence for the claimed benefits of naturals. Nature is a source of interesting molecules that deserves investigating and exploiting. It can do tricks with stereochemistry that chemists often cannot master in synthetic chemistry, but I do not believe that salicylic acid from willow bark works any better than salicylic acid synthesized in a pharmaceutical plant. Believers in natural products often claim that the impurities in synthetic products cause their side-effects, but this argument is not discussing the product, rather the possible impurities. If impurities cause negative side effects, they will need to be removed and will be removed or such products would not be sold.
However, where the comparison between “believing in the good of nature” and “believing in the existence of a god” goes wrong is the fact that the existence of a god cannot be proven whereas the good of nature can. My vicar was right; proving the existence of God turns religion to a fact and believing is no longer necessary. But “believing in the good of nature” relates to science rather than religion and should therefore follow the rules of science.
The “good of the botanical plant” over the “good of the chemical plant” should be investigated and demonstrated before it can be claimed. But the same products and the same chemical entities must be compared. Of course, when synthetic chemistry cannot synthesize the same (read: the right) molecule, use the nature-derived one. When the natural product variant has no harmful impurities and the synthetic variant does, clean up the latter or use the former, but do not state that only the natural variant is good. The impurities in the synthetic one are not good. Unfortunately, scientific evidence is often not provided with natural claims. Just like religion, it plays on the subjective feelings of people and not on their logical thinking.