Here is a story about a brand of toothpaste and Wikipedia, and how the brand of toothpaste won.  It is a salutary lesson, not for the toothpaste, but for Wikipedia – except I don’t imagine anyone from Wikipedia has noticed.

For several months in 2013, the well-known toothpaste Euthymol, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, has not been available. At first the company stated there had been supply problems, but then late in 2013 it emerged that the product had been withdrawn from sale because it no longer compiled with European Cosmetics Regulations. Paradoxically, the entry on Wikipedia seems to have been created just at this time, when the toothpaste was no longer available.

A search on Google for Euthymol led to a forum, where someone from customer support at J&J had responded to a question about the toothpaste’s lack of availability. I was struck by the wording of the answer, which looked to me to match uncannily the entry in Wikipedia for Euthymol. Here is the forum response (9 November 2013):

 

Dear Mr Pablo,

Thank you for your recent email regarding our Euthymol® toothpaste.

European Regulations and standards are continually evolving and as a result of the new European Cosmetics Regulation, many companies and raw material suppliers are required to update their documentation to meet the more detailed requirements. In some cases products and formulations may also need updating.

Johnson & Johnson Ltd, the makers of Euthymol, has temporarily stopped the supply of Euthymol toothpaste while the product is being reformulated. As a result, some consumers may find that product availability is limited at this time. The new formulation of Euthymol is expected to be available in the first half of 2014. We would like to reassure consumers that they can continue to use existing supplies of Euthymol. The current formulation is safe and has a long history of safe use.

Assuring you of our best attention.

Kind regards,

Natalia Bond, Assistant Consumer Support, Johnson and Johnson

The relevant European regulation was introduced over three years ago, so J&J have had plenty of time to change their manufacturing process.

And here is the text of the article in Wikipedia for Euthymol (retrieved 7 Feb 2014):

Euthymol

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Euthymol is a brand of antisepticfluoride-free toothpaste distributed by Johnson & Johnson that is characterised by its bright pink colour and medicinal taste. It is also notable for its packaging, which is old fashioned, having merely a pattern and the product name. The antiseptic ingredient in Euthymol is thymol. Since it is antiseptic, Euthymol can help with the prevention of mouth ulcers.[citation needed]

Johnson & Johnson Ltd, the makers of Euthymol, has temporarily stopped the supply of Euthymol toothpaste while the product is being reformulated due to the new European Cosmetics Regulation. The new formulation of Euthymol is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2014. The current formulation is safe and has a long history of safe use.

Hmm, “the current formulation is safe and has a long history of safe use”.  The same wording appears in the forum response from J&J Consumer Support.

This looks to me to be one of many, many examples where Wikipedia is being used by manufacturers as a part of their product promotion. Unverified assertions go straight into the published encyclopedia and acquire an objective status that is spurious. No attempt is made to change the wording of the official press policy. The eventual result, I believe, is that Wikipedia progressively loses its authority. I’ve pointed out elsewhere that new entries for Wikipedia are created faster than the increase in the editorial resources to check and correct them. Staff in corporate press offices will always have more time available to post poor entries such as this one than there are volunteers to review them. Unfortunately, this looks like a battle Wikipedia cannot win.

What should be done? How about the radical idea that Wikipedia should start blocking new entries from publication until they have been verified and commented on by at least one or two trained editors? It would provide a threshold of quality that Wikipedia so conspicuously lacks in articles such as this one.