As the adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease—or in the case of food science, the ban. Today, the institutions tasked with informing the public about the factual makeup of regulated foods are finding many audiences irrationally skeptical of legitimate studies or easily buying into suspect studies when it comes to new or developing practices. When consumers approach government agencies preemptively armed with pseudo-scientific “findings” spouted from fear-mongering third parties, it’s hard to not come off as defensive in asking folks to take a step back and review legitimate academic outcomes.
As the age of the Internet further blurs the lines of objectivity and legitimacy, all concerned citizens should take responsibility in verifying the news they come across in their personal research.
“Fake news” maybe be new, but “fake science” has been around forever.
Fearmongering authors with an agenda don’t want you to know that for every seemingly irrefutable point they may make based on one study, there may be always an equally irrefutable counterpoint to be found in the scientific community.
Overwhelming data from dietary studies on the consumption of carrageenan for the past 40 years has shown it time and time again to be a safe ingredient. Experts from the World Health Organization have even placed carrageenan in the best possible category for any food additive, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has gone out of its way to state that carrageenan has been found to be non-carcinogenic. Yet, those who have a bone to pick with the industries that may be indirectly profiting from these findings still find ways to frame their argument so that it sounds “like science,” even if what it is saying at its heart is not fact.
Why all the confusion?
Classification and characterization.
Many studies claiming to “debunk” the benefits of carrageenan are doing so by using blanket statements to generalize all seaweed derivatives, no matter how irrelevant those compounds may actually be in the food safety conversation. Notably: these “experts” like to draw conclusions about carrageenan based on findings about poligeenan, a dangerous substance that is simply not used in food. Although poligeenan is not a food additive, many popularized studies have claimed that its own dangers can be applied to all seaweeds, even though the similarities to carrageenan end during production.
Given how drastically different these two substances are, down to their molecular structure, and the fact that definitions distinguishing the two are readily available, there is no reason to see these sorts of claims as even remotely applicable to the discussion of food safety. Yet, many unverified “vigilante” bloggers and authors seek to draw parallels where none exist, resulting in misguided outrage and tragic misunderstandings.
When reviewing a study, always keep these questions in mind:
- Is this scenario realistic?
- What is actually being tested here?
- Who is telling me this?
- What do the words really mean?
- What is the context?