Scientific Snobbery

April 15, 2014

Move aside Green Snobbery there's a new kid in town... Scientific Snobbery!

There seems to be a new kind of 'snobbery' within our community - those who seem to think that they are superior because of their 'scientific' knowledge and minds. There was a time when we only had to face that kind of derision and contempt from those outside of our 'green' and 'alternative' community but now it seems settled as a way of thinking from those within our community.

I know this post isn't going to win me any friends, hopefully it won't cost me any either as this is not a personal attack. I aim to explain my point of view, vent my frustration and plead for this to stop... and 140 characters does NOT give me the opportunity.

So, let's start from what I consider the beginning. If you use natural, organic, green, chemical-free, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it products then you very likely lead a lifestyle that could be considered 'alternative'. It is likely that you do not make the same food, lifestyle and beauty choices as those in the 'mainstream' part of our society.

We are already up against it in the fact that we are 'different' and often have to justify ourselves to those outside of this group. Your friend doesn't understand why you reach for the peppermint oil and wheat pillow when you get a headache... why not just take a paracetamol? Painkillers are scientifically proven to kill pain and essential oils are not. Thing is, you don't know why and you can't prove it but it does work for you. You don't need a scientific study to back you up: you read about it somewhere, tried it out and continue to use it as you've seen results. 

I get itchy eyes in the shower... I stop using products that contain SLS and the itching stops. Yes, SLS is a known skin irritant but an official, scientific person said that it is safe to use... so it must be? Right? That is what the 'mainstream' think but in our community we know that's not true and we stick together - we share this 'insider' knowledge and help other people who get itchy eyes in the shower. 

Crystals - they are (scientifically speaking) inanimate lumps of rock but if you ask a number of people in our community they have their own properties - even personalities. They have energies, they can affect you, help you. A scientific person would (and does) think that you are a loony and scoff at your bizzare beliefs. I may not own any crystals myself (yet) but if you say they do something for you then you go on ahead, I 100% believe that you do get a benefit from them and share energies with them.

What it boils down to, and what I'm saying is: (brace yourself) I don't think there is any real place for 'science' in my 'natural' and 'alternative' way of living.

Whoa, back track a second - let me explain. I like to know the scientific research and background... before making my own decision based on what I feel. That is not a scientific or logical approach but it's what works for me and is likely how most of us in this community operate.

We all now know that parabens have not been proven to 'cause' cancer, in fact a few studies have shown them to be safe. So if you take the scientific approach then you would continue to use products that contain them... and the other cocktail of chemicals included in those products.

None of the ingredients that we, as a community, tend to avoid have been proven harmful in the quantities that they are used within mainstream products. Otherwise they would be illegal. 

Does that mean I am going to rush out to Boots and stock up on all the old stuff I used to use? Hell no! I've said it before and I will scream it again, I don't need something to be scientifically proven unsafe for me to avoid using it.

We still don't know the long term and cumulative effect of this cocktail of chemicals. Our day to day lives are very different and we come into contact with so much pollution these days - how does this add up in our bodies as well? We just don't know.

I personally use fact and 'science' as a base for my knowledge and then do whatever the hell I like, just because. And this community used to be a safe haven for this kind of thinking. It seems not any more.

Now there are blog posts and tweets popping up all over the place about how the word 'chemical' is incorrectly used, how pores don't actually open or close, how skin doesn't actually breathe... etc, etc.

When did we become so literal? Of course skin doesn't actually breathe! We all know this! But I think we all know that suffocating, heavy feeling that some make up or creams leave us with? Why does this term have to be 'de-bunked' and disproven? What harm was it doing?

Okay, maybe scientifically speaking pores don't open and close and I find that interesting to know as I've always been told otherwise (thank you Siam Botanicals) BUT don't you find your cream, oil, body butter, etc soaks in better when your skin is warm?

I've also found that the whole 'I like science' or 'I studied science' a bit like code for 'I'm smarter than you'... and to be honest it stings a bit. I am not an idiot. I am an intelligent person with a degree, a house, a daughter, a job, etc. I have made a number of important decisions correctly to get me to this point, I haven't floated here by accident. The fact that I don't base all my decisions on the results of scientific surveys does not make me ignorant or any less intelligent than you.

Having said all this, I do believe in questioning a piece of information, especially when the person telling you is the one selling you something. That's why I took the best part of a month to write my post about natural deodorants and aluminium. I don't want to be that blogger that continues to perpetuate a myth or green urban legend. 

One blog post that I personally thought was very well written and is the antithesis of my new term Scientific Snobbery is **this one** by Cori. It sets out to tell us scientific facts clearly and consciously without judgement or being condescending. She also lets us know that she's still on our side! She 'errs on the side of caution' without 'vilifying' an ingredient. 

What else am I trying to say? Basically I want this new trend to stop! Why must we disprove everything? This community and lifestyle is all about making alternative choices because we want to. Why has this sacred understanding and acceptance started to slip? Can we please grab a tight hold of it and never forget that we are all here in this community as equals and have our own reasons for our choices. 

I don't need a study to support the fact that Rosehip oil works wonders for me. I sometimes make a factually incorrect statement about a product 'suffocating' my skin but I am using the word outside of a scientific context therefore it has a different, less literal meaning. Yes sometimes I have been known to make a sweeping statement about 'avoiding chemicals' when really I mean avoiding harsh or irritating chemicals - so sue me! I just assumed you all knew what I meant.

Wrapping this up now before you all fall asleep (if you haven't already!) - this post is not a personal attack it is a plea for help! I beg of you, stop being so pedantic and please think carefully before bringing 'science' into our sacred world of feelings and instincts. 
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  1. What a well written post, I really enjoyed reading this (same with your green snobbery post) it's a shame people feel the need to be so technical, and I think you're right at the end of the day we all know when something works/when it doesn't, I have to hold my hands up and say I am guilty of the pore comment, but as you say I do think can feel suffocated with certain products. Great post Rachel :) x

  2. I think there are two parts to this. There is the part where you know your own skin, and what works for your body and what works against it. I look at blogs as like taking advice from a friend, and value that advice and tips. No matter how much science is behind the safety of a product, there will always be people that have very severe reactions. Unfortunately there is no scientific way of predicting this, and trial and error dictates what works for us individually.
    Research is a whole other minefield. Personally I feel that the sometimes a piece of research can be used to prove or disprove what ever your motives are. You only have to look at politicians and spin doctors as an example. I feel that quite a bit of the research, especially with parabens and cancers raises more questions than it answers. I personally get very cross when a piece of research pretends to have definitive answers, when it would appear to contradict itself. I think it is wrong that that is allowed to go unquestioned, and it does our community a great disservice. I think in those kind of scenarios we need clarification. Many of us would continue to use "natural" alternatives irrespective of this, but I don't think it is right that people get away with publishing things that frighten others without that clarity being sought.
    I see our community as a great source of knowledge and I have learned huge amounts from it. I think debate is an important part of that, but you are absolutely right that we need to be respectful to one another.
    Time for me to pipe down now x

  3. I really wish that I could have read this a year ago when I went natural! How true it is!

    Thanks Rach!

  4. Fantastic post Rach. I think science is amazing and has enabled us to make so many advances in all fields BUT is neither all-knowing or the last word. Anecdotal evidence, observation or simply, relying on your own instincts has an equally valid place, I think. I agree that there is an element of snobbery in the green community which is sad - it's not about who is greener than who, or who has studied science, or who can pronounce all those multi-syllabic chemical names. We are all taking our own path to a greener, more natural and healthier life and it's not a competition.

  5. Very well written post Rachel. I agree with in the fact that it shouldn't be a competition and we know how our bodies feel however I do like to know some science behind why products work or don't work. Of course there will be some things we don't all agree on, and it made me sad watching this all unfold on Twitter last night. We do have to go by what certain products feel like on our skin and of course our skin doesn't literally breathe, its just a figure of speech but I hope that this doesn't cause too much friction in the green community!

  6. Rachel, it's OK to have a different opinion :) I love doing scientific research, reading about ingredients and how our skin works. There always are controversial facts to each and every subject (green beauty or not), also, some facts tend to change with time.
    I agree with Annie - this is not a competition who's right or wrong. Our goal is the same, despite choosing different paths to get there.

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  8. I agree about Cori's article. It's great and I totally agree with it. I also agree with you that we often go with our instinct and can't say why. However, like someone has said, now adapt people want scientific prove that something is good for you or actually works. Take breastmilk for instance (totally off topic but you can't get a more natural product than that). We all know that it's the best food for a baby. Why do mum's breasts make it if it wasn't? However, people need to be shown scientifically that it's good for the baby and mum. The same goes for cosmetics or skin care products. Also, of course, science is needed in order to prove the safety or efficacy of a product or ingredient in order to sell those products. Some people need more evidence in order to be convinced.

  9. I deleted my original comment because I wanted to re-write it from a desktop, hope you don't mind :).

    I enjoyed reading this article. It shined a difference light on science vs. green living. It was also an honest representation of how you feel. It's your blog and you have all the right to express your point of view and feelings. I'm more of a feelings girl myself, I don't need a scientific study or research paper to tell me what works or doesn't work for me. That's mainly because I've never liked science..not that I don't believe in's just gets too complicated. Sometimes Mary, from Makeup by Mary B, gets scientific in her posts or in a comment in another post and I'm totally confused lol. That being said, I agree with many of the comments before mine.

    Science plays a huge part in the green beauty world, in my opinion. How would we know what ingredients are irritants, toxic, safe, if someone didn't research them? Example, SLS. It irritates your eyes and it gave me canker sores (when I used mainstream toothpaste). I'm assuming that studies showed that SLS can be an irritant and that's how people came to the conclusion that it causes canker sores, is drying, etc, etc. Science says it's okay to use in products, but that it's also an irritant, which is it? Depends on the person.

    What I loved about our little green community, is that we embraced and accepted each other's point of view without needing to agree with said point of view. Hopefully we can all get back to that. xo

    1. I agree that sometimes people have different points of view and they sometimes need to agree to disagree. However, after reading all three articles I have to say that Rachel is right. I like HH's posts, being a health professional myself, I'm used to wanting to know the science behind things. However, I feel that her article was about how only she knows about the science behind these products because she's qualified to understand that. However, what she needs to realise is that there are a lot of very intelligent people out there perfectly capable to understand that science even they haven't been trained in that field. Very often I come across people with a medical condition outside my area of expertise. They may not be medically trained but very often they know more than the doctors who are not specialists in that area. These are people who live with that condition and want to learn everything about it. This can equally be applied to this situation. I understand where Rachel is coming from. Just because she hasn't trained in that area she's not qualified to talk about this? I feel she was completely misunderstood and unfairly treated. I hope this hasn't put you off Rachel as I love your posts and videos and I want to see more.

  10. Little Saviours21 July 2014 at 03:51

    So much talking... nothing said
    What i find the most funny is that you actually went in Lorraine Dellmaier's web site to pull at her sleeve and ask her to read this. Sounded like a "look at me and my badass opinion" kinda thing. Lorraine is free to say and think what she wants without having to have other people "asking" her to stop doing what she does.
    And some of us actually like her website you know... *facepalm

  11. Aww she deletes the posts that are inconvenient to her. Poor child..


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