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Is Cosmetics Science Really "Bad"? Part III: Evidence to Support Claims in the Real World
By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD, JW Solutions
Posted: January 4, 2010
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The fifth question of Shermer's kit is painful for cosmetic science. It is: Has anyone gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only supportive evidence been sought? As the science philosopher Karl Popper once said, "In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality." In other words, all is true until shown to be false, but truth without falsification is no truth; rather, it is untruthful to reality. The strength of a scientific argument is not in proving something, but the demonstration that it cannot be anything else but that. This is generally what is not happening enough in science, specifically in cosmetic science. This is called confirmation bias because people see what they want to see and this confirms that what they see is correct.
Shermer showed a video during his keynote lecture at the 2007 IFSCC Conference in Amsterdam and he asked the audience to look carefully at the men in the video dressed in white, who were playing with a basketball in a crowd of people, to tell him how many times the ball bounced. The video was shown, and there was some discussion among the audience on whether it was 16 or 17 times. Shermer said it was 17 and asked the audience to watch the video again without paying attention to anything in particular.
During the second showing, audience members started to laugh when they noticed three men in black gorilla suits jumping up and down. The audience did not see the gorilla suits the first time because they were busy looking elsewhere for what they wanted to see. Confirmation bias is powerful, persuasive and almost impossible to avoid. This is why the methods of science that emphasize checking and rechecking, verification and replication, and especially attempts to falsify a claim are so critical and part of true science.
Cosmetic science definitely scores below average on this issue where science as a whole is already scoring low. After all, cosmetic scientists conduct most experiments to prove rather than disprove their point. On an absolute scale, this means that cosmetic scientists are scoring very low on Shermer's fifth question. Cosmetic science tends to report the positive and omit the possibly negative, and this is done on both a large scale and a small scale. As an example on a large scale, this author would like to remind readers of a defective detergent that created holes during washing. A small scale example can be seen in the failure of cosmetic manufacturers and suppliers to report negative observations to customers.
The sixth question of the kit is: Does the preponderance of evidence point to the claimant’s conclusion or to a different one? This is the classical argument of opponents of creationism. Although museums are filled with evidence of evolution, none of them alone support it, but the predominance of tens of thousands of evidentiary bits add up to a story of evolution of life. Creationists focus instead on trivial anomalies or currently unexplained phenomena in the history of life. Is this also happening in cosmetic science?