Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Problem With Science

Another story that piqued my interest last week was the one on a company that had chosen to remove a few chemicals from their products.

The article talked about how a Green party MP asked them to remove triclosan from their products. The fact that it was triclosan that they asked to remove was near the end of the story.

It irks me. You see, in high school, we're taught that science is very binary. You try to prove or disprove a hypothesis... That's all there is to it. Except... well... what happens when people have drawn contrary results to the same or similar questions? What if there's just not enough information either which way?

Actually - there's a fantastic resource for demonstrating this point: snakeoil (thanks for showing me this years ago Dr. Kubke). It's kind of a heavy site but if you are able to have a look, seek out some of those things that you take for granted. For example, Vitamin C for colds - the research is inconclusive... That is to say, the research hasn't turned up anything either which way.

So a lot of what we're told is marketing rather than things that have been proven. Wifi for your kids? Is it dangerous? The World Health Organisation have often been misquoted, or their findings misinterpreted by the media. While their findings are often around the fact that they can't rule out wifi being dangerous, they also haven't found anything particularly bad with it. The other thing to look out for is that they have different studies on the different frequencies. So what's found for cellphone frequencies isn't the same findings for wifi frequencies.

But back to the article. What is triclosan and why should we be concerned? It's used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent. It turns out we probably shouldn't, as consumers, be all that concerned. It's known to cause an effect on hormones in some animals but there's no proof that it does so in humans.

Anyway, I think I'd be a lot more confident if the news had a science advisor - someone who can look at these studies objectively and derive what the reports are saying as opposed to the knee jerk "water causes drowning so don't buy products with water" reaction that the media seems to encourage.

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