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It is argued that the high status of scientific opinion in society began to disintegrate with the failure of nylon shirts to offer the benefits promised to consumers in terms of comfort and convenience; and creating the hydrogen bomb did not particularly endear scientists to the world either.
Certainly today, wheeling in a scientist as the definitive answer to any serious questions appears to generate more questions than it does answers. They are drowned in a morass of personal acrimony and determined incivility that many of us once thought no educated person would consider allowable behaviour.
One of the consequences appears to be a very diminished quality of scientific debate at the very moment when the leather industry needs it to be both precise and accurate. Whether we are discussing tanning chemistry, waste management or environmental matters, judgments have to based on proper science rather than the opinions of journalists or paid lobbyists. It is as though the Enlightenment, so important in my native Scotland, never happened and we had never understood the value of replacing myths with properly researched truth.
The war against livestock is typical and every animal, wherever and however kept, is under attack. The diversity of habitats and husbandry around the world is immense and needs analysis, yet it seems that a well-funded, pro-fossil fuel lobby is able to twist the minds of society and politics at will. The debate around chromium is equally unintelligent and yet in the opinion of some of our biggest leather buyers has already been lost; and the hopes of those wishing to reverse it requires much more work to ensure we stop tanneries working outside safe limits of chemical and waste management.
In the leather industry, tanners with chemical and technology training have always been in the most senior positions and present to participate in, and often lead, our main debates. As the industry consolidates one wonders if they are slipping down the chain (perhaps this is why the chrome nonsense got so far) and if so, we need to put some thought to matters.
Science is difficult
Never before has it been so necessary that the leather industry all over the world has senior staff that understand the science and are the ones presenting the facts and information about our industry. Science is difficult. Issues such as the problems caused by methane and its origins are not fully resolved; our understanding of the longer term implications of some of the new tanning techniques appears limited. So, we need to hear from the scientists, not from lobbyists pandering to their specific audiences.
The leather industry has to be open
The leather industry will only do well if we maintain a position of openness and transparency. We have a problem, which has been mentioned here before, that many environmental executives with retailers and brands have qualifications that have not involved a chemical element so need to be sure they are being given trustworthy information upon which they can form their opinions. The “noise” around the leather industry, our raw material and our processes is characterised by error and misinformation, mostly deliberately disseminated. One clever article will not change it. We need every tannery to commit to putting good science at the forefront and instructing its staff to be clear and accurate with its information.
Dr Mike Redwood
November 28, 2018
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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