How can a cosmetic chemist remain a scientist?

The other day I stumbled on this story about a group of scientists questioning the need for people to take Vitamin D supplements. These independent researchers from the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) reviewed over 1000 publications and determined that there is no evidence that people should take Vitamin D supplements.

Skeptical Scientist

Being a skeptic of most vitamin supplements, it was easy for me to accept their conclusions. After I tweeted the story, one of our followers shot back…

“Please go to the Vitamin D Council website and do more research. Vitamin D supplementation is needed by most Americans.”

But although I am a skeptic, I’m always interested to see information that would change my mind. You see I hold no beliefs that couldn’t be changed with enough evidence.

So I went to the Vitamin D Council website and looked at what they had to say. They put out a press release that essentially concluded the FNB was wrong and that …
“Today, the FNB has failed millions of pregnant women whose as yet unborn babies will pay the price. ”

Who do you believe?

That leaves us with a choice. Do we believe the independent science board or the Vitamin D council who states on their About Page that they are “…a group of concerned citizens and scientists who believe many humans are needlessly suffering and dying from Vitamin D Deficiency”?

I have to say, the FNB seems the more reasonable choice to me. Independent scientists should always be trusted over biased groups.

Just consider this. Could a group that is dedicated to the belief that Vitamin D deficiency is causing problems ever accept research that concludes otherwise? I don’t think so.

On being a scientist

So what does this have to do with being a cosmetic chemist? There are a few lessons you can take.

Never start with a belief

When you begin with a conclusion, it is nearly impossible to accept evidence that conflicts with your belief. Creating hypotheses and guesses about what is true is a key activity to be a good scientist. However, even more important is to find out what is actually true. Making good guesses is not the mark of a good scientists. Discovering truth is.

Always question your own beliefs

You’re going to create formulas and if you’re passionate about them, you might even love them. But remember that you are not the customer. Just because something appeals to you does not mean that it will automatically appeal to someone else. Test your formulas on a blinded basis against other formulas with consumers or panelists. When it comes to matters of taste, you must trust what those panelists tell you over your own opinions.

Be skeptical of research from non-independent groups

No doubt your suppliers will come to you with studies that show how their new raw materials performs great. It makes sense. They want to sell their product. However, you want the best product so you should never take information from a supplier or non-independent testing house as the final word on a technology. Think about this…would they ever show you test results that weren’t going to show their ingredient in the best possible light? No. There is an inherent positive bias to all research from suppliers. This is not to say that they rig the tests. It just means that you must test everything yourself.

Industry Chemists

Being a scientist in industry can sometimes be difficult because instead of seeking the truth on all subjects, you are often seeking evidence that will support what you (or your company) wants to believe. Don’t fall into the trap that affects the people at the Vitamin D Council and heed the words of Richard Feynman.
“Science is about not fooling yourself and you’re the easiest person to fool”

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