Over the past year or so, since I started getting more and more involved in internet-based discussions on various aspects of cosmetics, I have been accused of having a vested interest on many occasions, and I have seen others similarly accused. I am writing this article for two main reasons:
1) I would like to state clearly my own personal interest (this is a little self-indulgent, but it means that I can simply provide a link to this article rather than re-type the statement each time I am accused!)
2) I would like to put this common accusation in context
Personal “vested interest”:
I work on the fringes of the cosmetics industry. I have worked with preservatives in cosmetics for 30 years. In that time, I have worked with many different preservatives, but mostly with parabens. The main reason that I have worked mostly with parabens is twofold – I have worked for/with two out of the three largest parabens manufacturers; plus, they are the most widely-used preservatives and difficult to avoid. Throughout ALL the time I have worked with parabens, I have also had most of the other frequently-used preservatives in my portfolio (neither of the two parabens manufacturers I worked with offered parabens alone). I have NEVER had to rely solely on sales of parabens. At present, more than ever before, from a purely commercial point of view it would make sense for me NOT to defend the use of parabens, as there is a greater profit to be had from the sale of many (most) of the alternatives. More pertinently, perhaps, is the fact that my involvement with Personal Care Truth and my interaction on various blogs is not part of my remit with my employer and this is largely done in my own time, and any comments and opinions are entirely my own and do not reflect the official position of my employer.
I have also been accused of “pro-parabens” bias (which is slightly different). This, simply because I choose to argue against the poor science/poorly-interpreted science used to damage the consumer’s perception of parabens.
My experience and expertise is dismissed by both of these charges, and I find it ironic that the very fact that I have worked with particular substances and studied them in detail actually counts against me, because of this perceived “vested interest”, or “bias”. Presumably, someone who has no connection with parabens offers a more valid opinion, simply because they have no vested interest (and often no scientific knowledge). This is illogical.
I have little interest in the continuing use of parabens per se. What concerns me is the misuse and distortion of scientific information leading to the unwarranted demonization of ingredients for which there is not sufficient proof of a lack of safety in use. Truth and accuracy interest me.
General “vested interest”:
This accusation is the sign of a desperate attempt to undermine the information/opinion being offered when there is no alternative option available (ie, no substantive information). On its own, it is intellectually bankrupt as an argument. To hold any weight in a discussion, the specific aspect of the vested interest (or bias) must be stated. To give a specific example (and one very dear to my heart!), I have recently been told that the SCCS opinion on parabens is not valid because this independent panel of expert scientists are “biased” towards synthetic materials. It transpires that this “bias” is subjectively deduced from a series of unfavourable opinions issued by the SCCS on various essential oils and components thereof. This is a very narrow perspective, and an illogical extrapolation (from essential oils to ALL natural ingredients) but my real point is that any perceived bias should only be addressed in terms of the ACTUAL report alone – in this example, the final opinion on parabens. There is no validity in the unspecific, scattergun accusation of bias (or vested interest), and it is unreasonable to dismiss all SCCS opinions on synthetics in such a facile manner. The SCCS opinions contain a detailed description of the studies considered, and the thought process behind the decision. This makes it easy to identify any aspect of the process that could be ascribed to bias. So far, no-one has ventured to offer a specific example of this “bias” from the SCCS, and it is likely that many who criticise the SCCS have not even read the report.
It is interesting to note that those who are quickest (ie, first) to shout “vested interest” or “bias” are often those to whom the charge may equally be applied, should that course be chosen! A classic example of this was in an earlier PCT discussion when an employee of the EWG entered the fray with this unfounded accusation – yes, someone whose ENTIRE job depends on the scaremongering effects of their operation to raise donations! (Hi Alex, if you’re reading this!)
In summary, “vested interest” and “bias” are intellectually bankrupt accusations when used without reference to facts to dismiss an argument when there is no real basis for disagreement, other than an unsubstantiated/unsubstantiatable belief system.
If this article sounds like a rant, it’s because it is! I am annoyed by the use of what amounts to an underhand, disingenuous tactic to support the unsupportable. This entire piece is, clearly, my personal opinion, based on the facts as I have stated. I am curious to see what response it provokes amongst those who use this tactic.