April 24, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | A Hyperbolic Article

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To the editor:

I read the article “Is Stevia the sweetener…..” in Cornell Sun and must confess my disappointment on comparing between the contents of the said article and of the actual technical paper in which the findings were published [S MUDGAL, I KERESZTES, GW FEIGENSON and SSH RIZVI, “Controlling the taste receptor……” Food Chemistry 197, 84-91 (2016)]. In the article you [Mudgal] mention that you et. al. proved that “stevia could be ridden of its bitterness while retaining its sweetness.” For starters, this is misleading — it implies that a chemical reaction can be performed which nullifies the bitter taste of the stevia. On the other hand, the technical paper describes an attempt to selectively present the sweetness of stevia to the taste buds while masking the bitterness — a significantly different objective in my opinion. Further confusion is created by your confident proclamations in the Sun article regarding “glorious success” and “dream…. being finally accomplished.” This led me to first search for your paper in ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’ — only when this search proved futile I found it in the pages of ‘Food Chemistry.’ In the journal article you mention that “current study highlights the relevance of [a mechanism] which MAY ULTIMATELY lead to [stevia]’s taste modification.” You further go on to say that your work “is LIMITED to the understanding of chemical parameters associated with [something] and further studies especially [something] are necessary to conclude the effectiveness of [your] model.” These statements seem to imply that your studies are still at a preliminary stage — how can you be so confident about its success before the research has even been completed? Further, in the Sun article you mention successful commercialization — surely you too must be aware that before even thinking in terms of mass production there are so many more steps which are required, to name just a few, (a) extensive clinical testing of the reagent BSA which you use, to evaluate potentially harmful effects at the expected dosage levels, (b) if such testing is cleared, actual experiments on human subjects to verify the effectivity of the proposed bitterness masking scheme, (c) shelf life and long time stability of the chemicals involved etc. Since none of this has been performed, your sentences about commercialization appear premature and misleading. On the basis of the above, I feel that you have deliberately exaggerated and misrepresented scientific facts in your Sun article.

Apart from these major criticisms, I also have a few minor points. For one, your work is obviously collaborative — there are four authors in the paper. Yet you imply that the work is entirely yours. Is it really true that all the other authors — including professors — were just duds coming along for the ride? Somehow I cannot believe that. You also describe what-you-say-is-your-own idea as ‘brilliant’ — surely that looks a little weird? Finally, the long introduction about saccharin is unrelated to the point at hand.

If you have any response to my above queries, then I will be pleased to hear them. Else I will request you not to publish factually inaccurate and self-glorifying articles in the newspaper in future. Such articles constitute an embarrassment to the entire community.

Shayak Bhattacharjee grad