Wanna know something that never goes out of fashion? FEAR, that’s what.
New year, new fear.
It sometimes feels like that should be my motto as, being a chemist I’m absolutely guaranteed to die of some terrible, horrible chemical-caused disease in fact I’m pretty sure that there are people out there who would step back from me should they meet me in fear of becoming contaminated by the air that I’ve breathed or the heat that comes off my body. Yes, with my hands in gunk all day long I can’t be anything other than TOXIC.
But luckily for me I am actually scared of very little (and am also quite healthy). I’m not struck on the idea of drowning, think that bungee jumping looks pretty pointless and have had the odd nightmare about rats eating my eyeballs (well actually I haven’t but now I’ve written it down I may well have manifested it. AAAHHHH) but chemicals? Well, I can mostly use the power of rational thought, research and personal experience to weigh up and put most threats into perspective UNLIKE our good friends at the Environmental Working Group whom, I speculate, are, as we speak crafting a space ship out of all-natural materials such as wood, algae and cotton to beam them up to a planet with no chemicals (or atmosphere probably) so that they may live forever free and clean. I wish them good luck with that.
So what has prompted this outpouring of FEAR BASED MARKETING RAGE?
A couple of people have flicked this article onto me over the past week and I’m very grateful! Thank goodness for people like writer Kavin Senapathy, a science writer who can spot un-entertaining science fictioning from 100 yards and spear it right between the eyes. I appreciate that, I really do as while I’ve been talking about fear based cosmetic marketing to anyone that will listen for the past 10 years few others seem to have been so vocal. This lonely monologging of mine has, at times had a tendency to see me put in either the ‘weirdo’ or ‘dangerous’ corner because I’ve not only questioned the Cosmetic Marketing 101 Bible but have actually told everyone that it’s a load of rubbish akin to ‘the Emperors New Clothes’ and so to have a few others on my side, especially people I don’t know and clearly haven’t collaborated with is gold.
The article in question was prompted by the fact that the Environmental Working Group (of the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database fame) launched their certification program late last year. Kavin summed up this wonderous event by basically pointing out how un-scientific and fear-mongering the EWG is and how this certification program is basically a tool for monetizing and promoting that fear, fear justified on the dubious merits of the precautionary principle. I don’t really need to bang on any further, read what she says and just know that I am there nodding my head and high-fiving her from my laboratory.
If you haven’t read much of my blog (and goodness knows, you don’t have to) you might read this and feel that I am dismissive of all chemical risks and would quite happily stick my head into a vat of battery acid. Well no, that’s not true either. The chemical manufacturing industry has arguably created as many problems as it has solutions, problems that are haunting us and our environment to this day. We can’t just make a new molecule or combine things to create a reaction without risk-assessing it and (these days) assessing its life cycle. Things do go wrong, chemicals can cause cancers and it is not entirely impossible that I will actually meet with a chemical demise. But what I’m saying is that life is risky and humans are motivated by fear more than any other emotion. Fear moves us. We are scared little creatures. Marketing companies know this and use it against us. This is lazy, cruel, un-imaginative and depressing. I’m all for good, accurate and honest science that can be pulled-apart, analysed, examined and tested. Science that actually helps us live a more beautiful life and not marketing dressed up in a lab coat. Sadly, it is rare to find such science because it costs more money, takes more time and generally creates far less soundbite worthy snippets than we, the hungry and impatient public have the time or energy for. Such a shame….
And the future looks equally bleak.
I am sure that there will be brands that go for the EWG’s accreditation. Some will go for it because they believe wholeheartedly in it and others because of a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), missing out on what you may ask? Sales. Brands will be told my someone in marketing that they ‘should totally do this because a competitors brand has got it and if we don’t we will look bad’. Another reason for going along with it might be that ‘our customers ask for it’. They possibly do but then why not spend the money on hiring a professional chemist communicator/ ingredient specialist/ toxicologist/ Research Scientist to answer these customer questions honestly and accurately and point them to the REAL science. Why not stop the rot rather than feed it?
To finish and to hopefully help illustrate that last point I’m currently reading a book about the modern history of the Great Barrier Reef – a book that includes many stories of European sailors who came looking for land to claim as their own. Sailors who came across first nation family groups and took stories of their meetings back to Europe. There was one story in this book that deeply moved me and it was of a woman called Eliza Frazer who found herself shipwrecked in the reef. She, along with a few other survivors rowed onto a reef island only to be taken in by the locals and looked after until another European ship came by and took her back to Europe. Well this Eliza woman was a bit of a liar to say the least and went back to England full of tall stories of savagery, rape and cannibalism, stories that her other ship wreck mates didn’t corroborate.
But at that time there existed a journalist by the name of James Curtis who was hungry for fame and was keen to capitalise on the current trend of the day which was for racism, bigotry and painting the First Nation people as murderous savages. James didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, ignored official court reports and published a pretty damming book that confirmed the bias and hating views of the average European. This one book became two when Curtis stumbled across another opportunity to lie and cheat his way to a best seller. But so what? Two works of fictionesque fact, two books that ignored the full truth and nothing but the truth can’t make waves in a continent as large and diverse as Europe, surely not? But they did. Sadly Curtis’s books played a key role in shaping general protocol of how to treat ‘natives’ so that they might not get in the way. His books were used as evidence that these people were indeed savages and that they posed a threat to the white way of life AND the white colonisers rights to this ‘new’ country.
What we say, do, write, support, fund and give power to persists.
It is time we stopped giving fear power.
It is time we invested more time and energy in finding out the truth of a situation.
It is time to grow up.