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Scientist or Charlatan?


 

In 1995 I went to a local street festival with my friends and came across a booth that was selling bonsai trees. I didn't know what they were other than tiny trees but I knew I wanted one because they looked cute. I picked out a small tree, stood in line and paid for it. I then asked the man selling the trees what I was supposed to do with it and he said submerge it in water for a few minutes when I get home and then I need to prune it along with other things. He then said if I was unsure at any time, just look on the internet for bonsai care instructions. This was probably the first time someone told me to research something online and at the time I thought there would be no way that something this specific would have a website dedicated to it. I then asked "theres a website for bonsai trees?" and then someone behind me said "theres a website for everything nowadays." And then someone else chimed in "don't tell her that, go to the library to learn, you cannot trust anything you read on the internet."

Oh how the times have changed. 

It wasn't that long ago that everyone knew that you had to keep your identity private on the internet because posting your personal information online can lead to identity theft, harassment and stalking. Yet now, with the advent of social media, we are expected to have a footprint online with, at the very least, a Linkedin or facebook account. It is now considered strange if you do not have a modest presence online. Such an act of preserving ones privacy now raises the question...what are you hiding?

And it wasn't that long ago that everyone knew to take everything you read on the internet with a grain of salt because unlike published books, anyone can make a website and write anything. With little to no fact-checking or consequence. And people are very good at masquerading themselves as professionals and authority figures online. 

But now that knowledge has been lost and forgotten. Now everyone believes every word they read online and rarely questions it. 

With the rise of blogging came the rise of the charlatan. On a blog you can be whomever you want. You can be a philosopher, you can be a historian, and you can be a "scientist". And unlike myself who has an advanced degree in the sciences along with 10 years of research, education and training to get that distinction, anyone on the internet can make a "scientific" blog or vlog and get loads of followers who believe whatever nonsense they're peddling. 

 And I am seeing this disturbing trend of pseudoscientists more and more in the skin care blogging world and it is cause for concern. I am even more concerned by how many people believe everything they read online just because the blogger claims to have a degree or they speak with a tone of certainty, hubris and to the biases of their followers. 

In 2017 I wrote an article on The 3 reasons why Vitamin C serums are bad for you (note: the current published date on the blog article is inaccurate because we updated our site recently) and the response was strange. The article is basically my opinion, as a scientist, on why vitamin C serums don't work, how it is biologically impossible to up-regulate collagen in such a matter, and how it causes damage to the skin. I provide credible sources to corroborate my claims, and I have personally conducted my own research in my own lab to verify my stance. When the article was published, a lot of people were surprised because (I believe) I was the first person to make it known that vitamin C serums aren't the "miracle broth" they were tricked into believing by the scientific bloggers who put it on a pedestal.  A lot of people were relieved because vitamin C serums did serious permanent damage to their skin and they didn't know it was the serums fault. They thought it was their fault. But the most disturbing response was the backlash by so-called "scientific bloggers." 

If you are a legitimate scientist, you admit you are wrong constantly. It is part of the discovery process to admit you were wrong at some point and realizing you are wrong is part of the process towards an answer. Scientists had to admit that they were wrong about thalidomide, a medication used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women which ended up causing severe birth defects. If the scientists who developed this drug refused to admit wrongdoing then we would have a health crisis in this country. 

The reason why scientists are wrong constantly is because discovery isn't a straight and predictable path from A --> B. Scientific discovery is a winding road of dead ends and false leads paved on a questionable foundation. During my research experience, and every other scientists experience, you will be conducting an experiment for months or years and find out that you were going about something the wrong way. A dead end and you have to go back and start over. Or you may be performing a certain experiment based on a prior result and find out that result wasn't relevant, meaningful or truthful. A false lead. Or you may find that all of the published peer-reviewed research that you based your study on is wrong. Your study was built on a false foundation and you have to start over.

The problem with the self-professed scientific bloggers out there is that they conduct no research of their own, refuse to admit they're wrong on anything, and wield peer-reviewed research like a kid who found his fathers gun. That is not the behavior of a scientist, it is the behavior of a charlatan.

When I published the vitamin C serum article, no one was able to refute me. And still no one has been able to refute my findings. The only thing that anyone is able to do is cite flawed, dubious research that they did not conduct (or read) and attack my character online. None of that is what a scientist does. That is what a charlatan does. 

And what you should be concerned about is how no one seems to be bothered by this sort of behavior. These scientific bloggers worship at the altar of "peer-reviewed research" but the first thing we learn in obtaining our higher education in the sciences is how deeply flawed the peer-review process is. The peer-review process is not a safeguard against flawed science, the peer-review process is nothing more than a means to maintain the reputation of the journal the study is published in. In school, we learn how the "peers" in this process are often deeply biased, will reject research if it contradicts their research, or if they do not like the scientist who wrote it, or they will approve research from friends and colleagues. Regardless of the validity of the research. The peers often steal research if the study they are reviewing is from a competing lab. There are also journals which are just "research factories" and all you need to do is submit your research along with a check and boom, you're research is published and peer-reviewed. 

None of this is rare, it is such common practice that we had an entire semester on the subject. 

I would think that a scientific blogger who claims to have a PhD would be well aware of that. Perhaps they are, perhaps they're not. But the important thing to understand is that they do not care about peer-reviewed literature unless it conforms to their agenda. And in the case of skin care scientific blogging it is usually a vitamin C agenda. And they only care about peer-reviewed research if they can use it as a weapon to stomp out a viewpoint that goes against their beliefs. And without performing any research of their own. Or even reading the studies themselves. 

However, when I cited research that went against their religious beliefs of skin care, my peer-reviewed research was all of a sudden false, not good enough, biased and questionable. And any rebuttal to my work was only able to attack my cited sources in their defense for vitamin C.

And it is important to note that attacking cited research and providing your own sources that conform to your beliefs is not a legitimate rebuttal or anything legitimate in the scientific community. Not even close. Yet this is the only thing that scientific bloggers do.

In the sciences you have research that supports or refutes existing research in the field all the time. If you publish a study on how crickets chirp at a particular frequency in a given climate, you will have follow up studies from different research teams that support and perhaps expand upon your findings, or you have studies that refute those findings. In the studies that refute the chirping data, it is not a sound scientific approach in your study to claim that the researcher lied about getting her masters degree, or to say her cited research is bogus, or that she is a mean person who is just trying to sell you something. Such a paper would have you laughed out of the sciences and no one would ever take you seriously. Why? Because, besides the complete lack of professionalism there is no actual scientific study done to refute the data. Unfortunately for bloggers, being a "hater" isn't part of the scientific method.

Yet we have scientific bloggers who conduct no research of their own, and their "scientific" approach is to merely attack opposing viewpoints through baseless accusations. These baseless accusations include that the opposing viewpoints research is flawed (without saying why) their cited sources are bogus (without explaining why) and attacking the character of the scientist. And I am bothered by this quite a bit. 

And you should be bothered by it too. A scientist should conduct their own research but I do not see any scientific bloggers doing any experiments of their own supporting the vitamin C serum claim, or the hyaluronic acid claim, or any claims they make. A scientist does not accuse another scientist of using flawed research without thoroughly backing up their claims with a detailed analysis of why the research is wrong. And a scientist does not attack the character of another scientist in an attempt to make himself look right and as a way to avoid doing any legitimate research of his own. 

Why are these bloggers able to use science as a weapon? Because their readers are not scientists, they know it and they exploit it. They take their readers for fools and know that they can just cite scientific studies (even if those studies do not support what they say, are dubious or they didnt even read them) and this will be enough evidence to keep their followers believing.  When their readers see "cited works" that is good enough for them.

I find it disturbing that the rise of the "scientific beauty blogger" brings with it a sort of cult-like following which is not scientific, its just a cult. The blogger presents himself or herself like a divine leader and their followers worship them. Everything they say is infallible. Its never wrong. And that is wrong. Everyone is wrong sometimes, especially scientists. I was originally wrong about hyaluronic acid. I originally believed it was a great hydrating ingredient, and even used to put it in Bioluminelle. But I realized through my own research I was wrong, posted about how I was wrong and took it out of my products. Because that is what I scientist does. I am not here to be right all the time, I am here to discover the best scientific practices for skin care.

But this type of false prophet is never wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. They love science when it "proves them right", gets them followers and lots of money, but when science proves them wrong all of a sudden that peer-reviewed data is flawed. That science is bad and those refuting them are frauds. 

There seems to be a contradiction here. Something is very wrong. 

The internet was once called the information superhighway because it was the first time in history that information was globally available, instantly accessible and constantly updated. But now it has devolved into a platform for shills, charlatans and frauds. Science is no longer a tool of discovery but a weapon of fraud. If you come across a scientific skin care blogger online, tread lightly. Consider the source. Is this a person who is taking a pragmatic approach to skin care science? Are they conducting experiments of their own? If they refute a scientific source, are they providing their own research and explaining why their sources are legitimate? Or are they just making accusations and telling you what you want to hear in a scientific way to trick you? Remember: a scientist is on a quest for truth. A pseudoscientist will say anything and do anything to preserve their ego and bottom line. So is your scientific blogger a scientist or charlatan?