Dealing With Misinformed People in Higher Authority

I love being right. I love it when I know I'm right about something and can point to evidence and other factual things to back up exactly how right I am. It's incredibly satisfying. (Hey, who doesn't love being right?)

On the other hand, I get incredibly frustrated when I run into a person of higher authority (and we're talking top-of-the-chain-in-a-government-funded-informational-institution-that-services-the-entire-country-of-Denmark kind of higher authority) that publicly presents – as fact – something I happen to know is

JUST

PLAIN

WRONG 

The Article

I was recently made aware of an online article in a national Danish newspaper about 'which everyday chemicals are the most dangerous'. Among other things, the author of the article advised against using products containing – in particular – ethylparaben and methylparaben.

Excuse me?

You mean the only 2 parabens that have been on the 'OK' list throughout the entire paraben controversy?

I guffawed (right out loud). Not only was this person so dead wrong it's not even funny, but – given their position – they should have known better.

The Initial Communication

I wrote to the author and politely pointed out the misinformation including a couple of links to where more info could be found. I assumed this person was just not updated (hey, it happens. These guys have a lot of chemicals to keep track of, so it's entirely possible).

The Reply

I received a swift reply. It wasn't at all what I expected. This person was convinced they were right and I was wrong and informed me that there were even possible environmental hazards with one of these parabens.

Wow.

That was news to me.


The Niggle

I proceeded to recheck my facts as the doubt starting niggling at me. Perhaps I was wrong – perhaps I had misunderstood – perhaps there was something I had completely missed along the way. I had to know for sure. I had to ask an expert.

The Path to the Horses Mouth

Through Personal Care Truth, I was put in contact with a preservatives expert and member of the European Scientific Community (SCCS) for answers to my questions.

In case you're wondering: The SCCS are the scientists that test and study different ingredients and chemicals for safety. They then inform the European governments of their results and make recommendations. Basically, it's their results the governments are using as guidelines.

I was thrilled to be directly in touch with someone so close to the horses mouth. Correction: this IS the horses mouth!

What He Said

I awaited his reply anxiously. When it came, I was elated. Everything I thought I knew as fact was confirmed, and the charges of possible environmental problems were 'complete nonsense'.

Shall we reiterate?

Facts About Ethylparaben and Methylparaben 

- Ethylparaben and methylparaben are not dangerous when dosed and used according to SCCS guidelines (and guess what – cosmetics manufacturers are doing just that).
- Neither of them are under suspicion of being endocrine disruptors
- Neither of them is a possible environmental hazard. (Quite the contrary – they break down into the environment quickly!)

I have this on good authority – the best authority. I have this straight from the horses mouth.

The Next Communication to the Author

I sent the information to the author with links to articles written by the SCCS expert, halfway hoping for a 'well that was good to know! Thanks for the info, Lise – we'll get on that right away and be sure everyone in the department is updated so we aren't misinforming the public any more'.

But no.

That's not at all what happened.

What Did Happen

Within an hour, I received a terse answer. The author instructed me that "regardless of what this expert says, our position will remain unchanged". A few minutes after the first mail, I received an additional one with an afterthought: "this expert from the SCCS can't be taken seriously as his present job keeps him from taking a neutral standpoint. Furthermore, his articles (that I had sent links to) have no basis in science."

Sigh.

I'm sorry, girls, I really did try, but some folks just won't accept your innocence – regardless of facts, statements from a bonafide expert and member of the SCCS, and documentation to back it up.

Ethyl and Methyl Paraben continue to lament





So Tell Me What You Would Do With This Information! 

Should I contact the author (again) and tell them they're wrong (again), should I let it go, or should I do something else entirely? The entire country of Denmark is getting their information on chemical safety from this organization, and this author is the person in charge.

Seriously – what would you do?

Comments

LiisK said…
I'd tip some journalist off - if they happen to care. Then tip off the cosmetics manufacturers - because they can actually threaten the organization or even sue them for spreading misinformation and damaging their business. There could potentially be a lot of money in this case should it be pursued.
Of course I'd also send an official letter to the institution requiring to know the source of their information . ;)
(I am evil...).
Anna-Vera said…
I completely agree with LiisK... except I don't think you're evil, LiisK. To me, those are the RIGHT things to do. All of Denmark should not be misinformed, and if that means cosmetics manufacturers need to be involved to get this person to change their position, then so be it. (Hey, you tried the polite way)
On the other hand... if you don't want to be mixed up in and bothered with the mess that undoubtedly will ensue, then just rest easy in that you tried, and we believe you.
Rikke said…
Lise- hvilket medie bragte den artikel. Det er simpelhen dårlig journalistik. Det er da regel nr. 1, at man skal holde sig til fakta og være objektiv!!! Nøøj hvor kan jeg blive sur over sådan noget. Jeg synes, du skal gå til redaktøren!

Kh Rikke
ps: Jeg har sendt en besked via fb
Lise M Andersen said…
@LiisK and @Anna-Vera: thanks for your support. I am still at a complete loss as to what to think about all this--
@Rikke: Jeg startede med at kontakte avisen og blev umiddelbart sendt videre til artiklens forfatter... det er jo lidt det der er problemet--
Thomas Sigsgaard said…
Inovations biggest obstacle: ignorence.
Lise M Andersen said…
You are so right Thomas!!
Dene said…
"this expert from the SCCS can't be taken seriously as his present job keeps him from taking a neutral standpoint. Furthermore, his articles (that I had sent links to) have no basis in science."
This comment is what is known as a logical fallacy - the statement has no connection with the actual argument, and the principle is NOT about a "neutral standpoint", it is about being accurate and truthful and correctly interpreting the science. The articles that were submitted all contained references to the scientific studies that were the fundamental basis for the articles, so to claim that they have no basis in science is total nonsense. It seems ironic that people such as this take the position that someone who works with a substance, or in a specific area of industry is not to be trusted, when it is usually those people who have the expertise and the desire to properly investigate the science. So, basically, if you have the experience and expertise, you are not allowed to use it! One can only marvel that such people manage to function from day to day without medical assistance! To have such an attitude when one is in such a powerful position is quite worrying, as this is the sort of argument that is only used when there are no facts available in support of the persons position.
Lise M Andersen said…
You are so right Dene. I have definitely had the impression from this person that it is more important for them that THEY are right than to find out exactly what actually IS right. It's an incredibly immature attitude to have (at any age), but particularly unappealing when it comes from a person in authority.