Pseudoscience, Pseudoreality, and Subjectivity in the Natural Sweetener Debate

Cadbury
The picture of “purity” soon to be equated with “Natural”

William Cadbury was no stranger to the influence that the media could have on a business’s image, particularly if the business was involved in unscrupulous dealings and production practices (Coe & Coe, 242-245). Control of the media and the terminology used in the media gave Cadbury a competitive advantage (Higgs, 133-165). Cadbury, like many other corporations, began hard campaigns amongst the public to discredit rivals, demand apologies for libel, and promote the supposed health and purity of their products (Satre, 13-32) (Higgs, 133-165) (Coe & Coe, 242-245). Cadbury’s subjective reconstruction of the definition of “slavery” on the Sao Tome chocolate plantations laid the framework for future strategic definition terminology manipulation when profits and business image would be effected (Satre, 1-32). The use of the media in the definition of “natural” terminology by American agro-business and their rivals follows Cadbury’s example of media manipulation (Corn Refiners Association, 2016) (Minton, 2014). Ambiguity of the FDA’s definition of “natural” and their reluctance to harden this definition has allowed special interest groups and amateur bloggers to perpetuate a culture of pseudoscience and misuse of information through multiple media outlets since the controversy first broke out (“Meaning of ‘Natural'”,2016).

 

Early newspapers were America’s predominant method for access to “reliable information” regarding “natural” food production.  Yet since its advent, in America, newspapers have been used to publish invalidated data and facts under loose or non-existent federal legislation concerning proper documentation and verification procedures (“Shield Law”, 2016). Since Yellow-journalism rose to prominence in the mid-1800’s, a sensationalist style of reporting became the norm in media portrayal of nearly any subject matter (Office of the Historian, 2016). This style gave a small, special interest minority the power to control information flow and access to the public (Wright & Rogers, 2010). Special interest information flow created public ignorance and enabled special interest propaganda (Wright & Rogers, 2010). Even public health was up to the discretion of the media owners, as to what they would and wouldn’t publish, particularly if they were also investors or owners of a company polluting public health (Coe & Coe, 243-245). Even the reporting of “facts” in the news is not without its consequences, as in the libel case of Cadbury Brothers Limited v. the Standard (emphasis mine); which awarded Cadbury with a legal precedent against itself being defamed, even with proper factual verification of Cadbury’s purchasing of slave produced cacao (Higgs,133-152). The problems with newspaper articles are: they lack factual verification requirements; lack peer-review processes (to catch factual or interpretation errors); cater to special interest group agendas (subjectivity through objectivity); lack source citations for the mass public to verify the facts autonomously; and professional newspapers do not speak for the public voice (even though some claim to) (Wright & Rogers, 2010).

The Lyrics in this song discuss the blinding effect that mass media has on the public.

Radio stations and broadcasts have the exact same problems as newspapers (Wright & Rogers, 2010). Radio did offer new opportunities for discourse concerning public health (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). With radio, political debates could now be heard first-hand rather than reading second-hand (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013) (Wright & Rogers, 2010). This gave the public more agency to come to their own conclusions about public health policies (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). Yet this unprecedented access still struggled with factual verification (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). The public had little means by which to verify claims made by the radio or newspapers, even when made by so-called scientists (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). Little can be known about who, what, where, and when the facts were collected or under what conditions they were analyzed. As the telephone was invented, the ability to call into radio stations and ask questions stirred up trouble for special interest groups, who had a near monopoly on information traffic (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). Callers could now debate with the radio hosts and their guests to poke holes in arguments, and question motivations and agendas (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013). Eventually more radio stations were created and the science (or pseudoscience) became lost in hundreds of talk shows, advertisements, and music (“Radio’s Basic Problems”, 2013).

Television (1920’s) was the next medium by which information could reach the American public (Stephens, 2016). Food advertisements became misleading particularly when there were no regulations about how foods were described (“Meaning of ‘Natural'”, 2016). All “natural” ingredients and public polling engendered a level of trust in brand  names and terminology (Coe & Coe, 242-245) (Stephens, 2016). Companies could claim that ingredients were “natural” in-name-only; the origin of some of the ingredients were a company secret (Coca-Cola), or they were simply synthetically produced from genetically modified foodstuffs (which are “natural” as they are “biologically” produced) (“Vault of the Secret Formula”, 2016). News shows use even looser fact verification in the interest of being the first to cover a story (Mortensen, 2011) (“Definition of News Ticker in English”, 2016). Television also enabled non-news television shows to air, which garnered a larger audience (Stephens, 2016). These shows could often have “natural” subtext that could indicate a writer’s, often satirical, attempt to inform their viewers of a new factoid (Stephens, 2016). Yet even these subtextual shows were not without censorship, from private entities not wanting to be slandered or special interest groups that would pull financial support from shows that could pull focus away from their agendas (Number, 2010).

Please start video at 1:14.

 

The Internet (1960’s) was not initially of much use to anyone until the 1990’s and the invention of the World Wide Web (Andrews, 2013). This new form of information enabled special interest groups to reach straight into the homes of Americans (Andrews, 2013). The combination of newspapers, radio, and television accessibility through the internet created a storm of pseudoscientific articles which in-kind created hosts of new special interest groups to lobby against them with their own pseudoscientific articles (“Bonvie, 2014) (“Corn Syrup”, 2016). Social-media and multi-media sites enabled any American with internet access to engage with all this information (Leiter, 2006). Blogs became a major outlet for individuals to expression opinions and attempt to

chex_vanilla
This picture is a subject of much controversy after lawsuits were settled about subversive labeling.

root them in “fact”(Leiter, 2006) The pro/con High Fructose Corn Syrup debate has raged throughout blogs with claims that it is “natural” or un-natural, citing equally unverified pseudoscientific research whilst largely ignoring empirical academic scholarship (Landa, 2012) (Barrett, 2014) (Leiter, 2006). Even sites such as Consumer Reports have documented the mass “natural” definition confusion (Consumer, 2014) (Collins, 2014). Blogging constitutes the most dangerous form of unregulated pseudoscience. Facebook debates and Twitter outbursts on the definition of “natural” are often uncited (Leiter, 2006).

 

The “natural” debate has polarized the food industry and perpetuated ignorance of the dictionary definition (Leiter, 2006). The FDA refuses to define “natural,” which would obligate the government to enforce it (U.S.F.D.A., 2016). Agro-business lobbies against a definition since they constantly attempt to get negatively stigmatized, “un-natural” ingredients relabeled to disguise themselves again as “natural”(Landa, 2012). Even the opposite special interest groups have an economic bone to pick, especially if they invest in farms/businesses that already cater to their “natural” definition (Settlement Agreement, 2016).

“Natural” must be defined by the FDA in order to maintain a health standard across America (“‘Natural’ on Food”,2015). Until the FDA officially recognizes “natural” foodstuffs by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition, all subsequent constructions of “natural” are all equally subjective (Natural, 2015) (Leiter, 2006). The public must consider all possible sources and biases when contact with any information is made, even when it comes from a “credible” source (Leiter, 2006).

Bibliography

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