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Is Cosmetic Science Really "Bad"? Part V: Who do you think you are fooling?
By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD, JW Solutions
Posted: May 7, 2010
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But was this really worth the health warning I gave at the beginning of this column? The poison must be in the tenth and last question of the Baloney Detection Kit: Do the claimants’ personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions, or vice versa? Michael Shermer writes about this, stating that “all scientists hold social, political and ideological beliefs that could potentially slant their interpretations of the data." But how do those biases and beliefs affect their research? At some point, usually during the peer-review system, such biases and beliefs are rooted out, or the paper or book is rejected for publication. This is why one should not work in an intellectual vacuum; if these biases in one's work are not caught, someone else will catch them. Here is where, I believe, cosmetic science has a few big issues.
As stated above, putting sales above cosmetic science leads to a reduction of the quality of cosmetic science. Let me illustrate this with a real life example. One day I found myself somewhere on this planet at a scientific cosmetic event where an exhibition was held. One of our colleagues who was performing his or her booth duties at the exhibition was about to change jobs. The following week, (s)he would be performing the same booth duty at another exhibition on another continent for another supplier company. This intrigued me enormously, and I asked the individual how (s)he could serve our formulating colleagues with less than even a weekend of preparation? The answer, however, was simple. You read the product folders on the plane; both the new employee and employer seemed to have accepted this as their way of working. Neither party said that this was not good practice. Rather, they fooled themselves into thinking that this was okay. Selling was, and is again, more important than being completely correct and fully informed.
How many scientific publications do you read? Phrased differently, how many scientific publications do you receive each week? How many of these are peer-reviewed? Only journals like the International Journal of Cosmetic Science (IJCS), the Journal of Cosmetic Science (JCS), Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine and the IFSCC Magazine are peer-reviewed. Undoubtedly, the Fragrance Journal and the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists in Japan are probably also peer-reviewed. Since the IJCS reappeared on Medline, the journal has flourished. Serious cosmetic scientists want to publish in peer-reviewed journals but the majority of what they publish is not peer-reviewed. Hence, cosmetic scientists are not believed.
This could be easily solved if all cosmetic scientists would only submit work to peer-reviewed journals, but this will not happen because cosmetic scientists prefer to publish in non peer-reviewed journals where they have more freedom and may not have to substantiate their claims. But as George Washington said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.” We cosmetic scientists prove George Washington wrong. We think we can fool all the people all the time; but how successful are we really? Are we believed? Whatever the supplier tells us is checked by the manufacturer. Subsequently, the consumer is checking the claims of the manufacturer. But if these products do not work, the consumer will stop buying the product, the manufacturer will stop buying the ingredients and the marketers of the supplier companies will search for a new concept.
Two of my friends, Tony Rawlings, PhD, and Paul Matts, PhD, wrote an article about what they call the "dry skin cycle." One deterioration leads to the next, and to the next, and to the next; a vicious cycle. Similarly, we can also identify a "dry cosmetic science cycle." If cosmetic scientists adhere to the wishes of marketers and bosses that solely want to sell, we start to fool ourselves and our customers and let cosmetic science dry out. Nobody believes us any longer, even if we do a good job. That is the sad reason why Michael Goldacre, PhD, included a whole chapter on cosmetics in his book Bad Science.