Using the term "heavy metal" then think again

The Redwood Blog
Published:  24 June, 2014
Mike Redwood

Sometimes when you give a presenetation you learn as much in the giving as in the preparation, as the very effort of trying to express ideas with a mix of brevity and clarity brings into focus the essential points and priorities in new ways. 

So it was at Saratoga Springs last week where the American Leather Chemists Association (ALCA) held its 110th Annual Meeting. I was delighted to be asked to speak as the "Eagle Ottawa" invited speaker and had a subject related to the importance of careful use of science and scientific terms when talking about leather. This came immediately after the John Arthur Wilson Memorial Lecture which was a wide ranging talk on the leather industry and International Technical Cooperation by Jakov Buljan, a former head of the UNIDO Leather Unit. In one brief but significant aside Jakov said that the leather industry suffered from "inadequately formulated research papers that in essence disqualify chrome tanned leather". He is absolutely correct and this was the perfect lead into my argument.    

It is easy for us to complain about all those who attack us and ridicule the illogical and incorrect information they use to support their arguments. At best they cherry pick the facts and at worst they intersperse this with data they know to be false. But there is a flip side. Quite a lot of the material they can quote is generated by tanners themselves. We have a history of careless use of technical terms and sometimes get involved in attacking selected tanning processes like chromium just to gain marginal advantage in selling leather.

As an industry it is essential that we take great care that we do not create a rod for our own backs. If we use terms like "sustainable", "eco", "organic" or "toxic" in our literature then we must step back and obtain a proper definition of what is meant. And if anyone is thinking of using the term "heavy metal" then think again. A thorough examination of the phrase defined it as "a meaningless term". Those that use it often want to make a political, lobbying point and not a scientific one.

If we want to fight those who attack leather and get the badly written papers that are used as references changed or removed from circulation then we must ourselves be careful what we say and do when we are promoting our own products.

A serious rethink of all our arguments is needed to ensure we are confident that we are not just perpetuating myths and peddling loose unscientific language that can be leashed against us. Leather is a material born out of craftsmanship, but its future success relies on this being evolved alongside the highest levels of science.

Mike Redwood

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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