Editorial August 1998 Issue

Consider The Source

We’re far from perfect, but at least our knees don’t jerk!

Recently I received a letter from a reader who had received a free sample issue, and was writing to let me know that she was “sorely disappointed” with what she read.

After studying her letter, however, I realized that anything we published couldn’t have made the writer happy. In the June issue, she complained, all four of our recommended dog biscuits, and even our recipe for homemade biscuits, included wheat, yet we made “no mention of how many dogs are extremely allergic to wheat, including one of mine, who suffered with diarrhea and terrible skin for two years before I learned about wheat and got him completely off of it.” She continued, “Corn is another allergen, which is an ingredient in two of your recommended biscuits.”

It’s true; wheat is a common allergen, and it would have been helpful to some dog owners if we had included a wheat-free biscuit on our list. (We did note that some dogs are dairy-intolerant, and we included a dairy-free biscuit.) But it’s impossible to make (or recommend) a biscuit that NO dogs are allergic to! Many dogs are allergic to corn and wheat, but many others are allergic to chicken, beef, lamb, rice, etc.

Next, the letter complained about our article on dog shampoos. Two of WDJ’s shampoo recommendations, she alleged, contain “extremely questionable ingredients.” The source of her opinion? A booklet called “10 Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid,” published by the maker of a line of natural cosmetics.

The writer concluded by saying she would decline subscribing. “I think the above is sufficient to make my case that WDJ does not share my view of what ‘natural’ means, or that, by my lights, it is capable of providing me with information that is ‘authoritative’ or ‘reliable.’”

I have to wonder at the wisdom of believing spokesmen for a company with a monetary interest in sounding an alarm over the unsubstantiated “dangers” of a substance. While remaining open to the possibility that we could miss a credible report documenting the dangers of a substance, I prefer to trust our independent advisors.

But then, our approach isn’t for everyone. WDJ is too radical for folks who will never stray from the path of traditional veterinary medicine, and too conservative for those who are devoted to using only completely “natural” or alternative methods and products. That’s because we want the publication to be about what’s best for dogs – the most effective treatments and foods with the fewest side effects.

I believe – and I hope you do, too – that there is value to a publication that doesn’t have an axe to grind. We won’t run an article based on knee-jerk opinions just because we “read it somewhere.” Until we have examined reports for and against a product or service, examined the sources of the information, and compared our findings with a few independent sources, we’re just not going to get excited.

For instance, I’ve seen several partial and total versions of “10 Synthetic Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid” on the Internet, and none of them worried me. Every version of this list I saw contained two indications of questionable content: (1) The early use of an opening quotation mark, which marks the beginning of an inflammatory quote by some expert but is never followed by a close quote, so you don’t know where the expert’s opinion ended and the website author’s took over, and (2) a sales pitch for an alternative product. In my book, the pitch alone seriously undermined the credibility of the information.

Elizabeth M. Whelan, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, once said that health alarmists should consider the proven – not just theoretical – dangers of a substance before crying “carcinogen.” Constant warnings lacking scientific proof, she said, will only help cancer – now the second leading cause of death in the U.S. – to continue ravaging those who have become too numb to false alarms.


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