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Scientific Illiteracy

  1. Mar 16, 2017 #1
    This is in the way of a rant, but I am posting it here as it relates to education and to encourage you educators to do a better job. :wink:

    I recently bought a well-known manufacturer’s LED light bulb at a home center. I was curious to know the spectral output of the bulb, so I emailed customer service. I know generally how these white light LED curves look (so you needn't bother to show me) but the specific coating on the bulb could affect the output and I thought this would be a simple request.

    To my astonishment, they replied that their R&D department said this is proprietary information and not available. I politely pointed out that the output of the light is there for anyone to measure so it cannot be considered proprietary. They only doubled down on their answer.

    Granted the front line customer service rep probably did not have a technical background, but it was disappointing to see how resistant to logic she was.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2017 #2


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    Oh, you optimist.

    My son recently had his backpack stolen and there was some card in it (I forget what but it was maybe a gym card, not a credit card) and he had to call to get them to cancel the old one and issue a new one and the conversation went like this
    Son: My backpack was stolen and it had your card it it. I need you to cancel that one and issue me a new one.
    Rep: Ok, can you read me the number off the card?
    Son: I don't HAVE the card. It was stolen.
    Rep: So, the card is not presently in your possession.
    Son. No, it was STOLEN!
    Rep: So, you can't give me the number on the card?

    You get the idea.
  4. Mar 16, 2017 #3
    Awhile ago I was also interested in this, so I did a rough check using a blank CD as a diffraction grating.
    While not at all accurate is was very clear that bulb (It was labelled as 'cool white') was producing all of the visible spectrum.
    No noticeable bright peaks or gaps.
  5. Mar 16, 2017 #4
    My point is not to discuss the spectral output of the bulb but the response of the manufacturer. If I were still working, we could use the radiometer we had in our lab to get the information I requested in about one minute. So not very proprietary.

    What's next - Ford not telling us the colors of their cars because it's proprietary information?
  6. Mar 21, 2017 #5
    it looks as if these idiots were the first you encountered
  7. Apr 28, 2017 #6
    There was a lawyer whispering in that customer service rep's supervisor's ear. I don't know any companies that publish more R&D data than is required by the industry standards or regulations.
  8. Apr 28, 2017 #7
    There are legal liabilities for a company when distributing such information to customers.
  9. Apr 28, 2017 #8
    I did a quick check to see what other companies might be doing and easily found literature from Sylvania and GE on the spectral output of their lamps:


    So it may be true that their legal department nixed sharing of the data, but it seems silly. All the more so as every one of the data sheets for their discrete LED components includes a spectral distribution curve.

    I should add that the rep told me that the lamp in question did not emit any UV.
  10. Apr 28, 2017 #9
    Seriously? It's like the brick company refusing to tell you the length of their bricks, "proprietary, you know..." Or, the yardstick maker, refusing to reveal the number of inches on their product. Well, not quite that bad, but really.
  11. Apr 28, 2017 #10
    Its more like a car company not giving you their raw chasis dyno results.
  12. Apr 28, 2017 #11
    I'm not even sure what that means, but is it really comparable to the light output from a bulb, something that anyone with a radiometer can easily determine without disassembling the item?
  13. Apr 28, 2017 #12


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    Maybe you should go back to them and tell them that you have now obtained their spectrum and you are going to publish it on Facebook (or something they could understand).

    They might give you some money (or light bulbs) to keep you quite!
  14. Apr 30, 2017 #13
    I would dnt jump to the conclusion you are dealing with scientific illiteracy. In 1978, I was on a plant trip to Eastman Kodak. With other students I sat in a "well-lighted" room, while my guide introduced himself. He asked us how we all felt. Many responses were that it was well lighted, we were comfortable, we thought he might be talking about the chairs or accommodations.

    He told us the room had special lighting. The lighting had frequencies that simulated outdoor natural lighting. He told us most people felt good in this room. He told us they hope to make it more available, but right now (1978) the cost is go produce the bulb was 900 dollars. Clearly Eastman Kodak should be interested in protecting the research and production methods going into making of the bulb, and the spectral output.

    From experience my colleagues and I have in production, I also know if someone asks me for any details concerning any work product, I should clear it with the legal department before passing it along. Unless they determined the request is innocuous the legal department would likely say no.
  15. May 1, 2017 #14
    That's a different situation as the item was not yet commercially available. Once it would become a commercial item, they can no longer hide the spectral output. Presumably they would have filed a patent first.

    Understood. But it appears, from my links above, that manufacturers routinely provide information about the spectral output of their lamps, so why the secrecy in this case? I have a feeling that if I had called on a different day and maybe got a different rep the response might have been different.
  16. May 1, 2017 #15
    The absence of publication/distribution of their test lab information is not the same thing as actively hiding the spectral output. They are smart not to tell you what the expected spectral output is. Based on my current perception of your mentality, I could see you potential for suing them/reporting them over a discrepancy between whatever PSD they give you ~~ and whatever you happen to measure on your exact bulb. Whether that would happen in your particular case is not the issue. When you sell hundreds of thousands of them, and tens of thousands of the recipients each have a 1:10,000 chance of raising a fuss about the spectral output expectations vs their own measured values, its almost a guaranteed issue.

    That is the kind of thing that companies have to worry about. Are they going to piss off any sanctioning bodies by distributing the expected spectral output of their bulb without going through certain certification channels? Can they afford to do the QC audits to make sure that their products are within spec? etc etc
    Last edited: May 1, 2017
  17. May 1, 2017 #16

    Andy Resnick

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    Has it occurred to you that maybe your question isn't worth their time? Especially since you can go measure it yourself.

    Another possibility: the bulb manufacturer may simply purchase the LEDs from another company (or source it from many companies to ensure supply chain continuity) and so they actually don't have that information.

    Did you think to ask (or try to find) a datasheet? Did you try and identify the manufacturer of the LED?
  18. May 1, 2017 #17
    Dr. Freud, it's interesting how you can make a judgment of my "mentality" from a PF posting. I was merely interested the spectral output of a bulb, from a scientific curiosity, not intending to get ammunition for a law suit.

    You are trying to justify/explain why they didn't want to give me the information, but, as I said, other bulb manufacturers don't seem to have any issue with this. It would seem if they had the reservations you are suggesting, the company in question would not publish this information for all of their LED components, which they do. I attribute their response not to any such legal reservations, as you suggest, but merely to the fact that they didn't seem to understand the nature of my question.
  19. May 1, 2017 #18
    No, it hadn't. They provide a contact phone number for questions about their product. This seemed like a simple enough question. And a typical caller will not have a radiometer available, as I don't now that I am retired, so they can't go measure it themselves.

    No. This is a major LED component manufacturer that also makes a household LED bulb. I highly doubt they use another company's LED, but even if they did, they didn't say they don't have the information available, they said it was proprietary and couldn't reveal it.[/QUOTE]

    My initial post was simply to relate my experience with their customer service rep and their ignorance of the fact that the spectral output couldn't be proprietary information. Whether or not I followed up with data sheets is not the point - it shouldn't have had to come to that.

    I'm detecting a bit of hostility around this topic, so as far as I'm concerned it can end here.
  20. May 1, 2017 #19
    Have you ever worked in R&D? If so, how long ago?

    Test lab data is indeed propriety information. Virtually all R&D data on every mass-produced product is a measurement of something that anybody with the needed resources could measure.

    I don't see how this has anything to do with them somehow having scientific illiteracy. Do you know what scientific illiteracy actually is? If you do, I don't know how you could make any connection between that definition and the behavior of the mfg that you emailed. They made their decision because it was the one that exposed the business to the lowest amount of liability. It sets a low-risk precedent as well.

    The actual illiteracy here is economic illiteracy. People like you seem to have no actual understanding of how businesses use R&D departments, what REAL research data is used for within an actual company that faces actual consequences if the R&D guys screw it up, how that data feeds into/back from the market if published/distributed for competitors to see, what regulatory-or-otherwise liabilities companies are opening themselves to when distributing/publishing claims/data, or when its advantageous to distribute/publish data.

    Businesses have to be very risk-averse in today's culture. It is a hostile and competitive time for businesses. They can't afford to say anything that they don't want you to have in court, basically. Everything is a threat until proven otherwise. Between Unions, Regulatory hurdles, taxes, fierce competition, sue-happy people, sanctioning bodies, and constantly fending off eradication attempts by the "saviors" of the working class trying to "overthrow the top 1%", you never know what is going to blindside you and snatch up all of the company's profits this year. The companies that did stuff like that have been picked off already
  21. May 1, 2017 #20
    In response to your first underlined sentence:
    If you read the semantics of the post that you replied to, you would notice that I said "Based on my perception of your mentality". It was said in the present-tense and I'll re-phrase the exact same message again hopes that you will understand it this time: ~~If my current perception of your mentality is correct, then you have an above-average likelihood to sue this company or report them to a bureau/sanctioning body of some sort should they distribute to you a graph that does not match your own measurements of the light's spectral output. I'm not claiming that you do or do not, but rather drawing attention to it to illustrate one possible risk that they would face by distributing/publishing R&D data to you that they got through whichever proprietary testing procedure they used. ~~

    In response to your second group of underlined sentences:
    You're assessing this situation with a foolish consistency. Although the data itself might be equivalent, the legal protections and compliance methods that the two companies each have might not be the same. One company might have different QC audit methods than the other. One might have recognition from an industry authority or an independent lab to help confirm output. The company you got your LED from might not be as confident in the consistency of their product's output. If a class-action suit was filed based on some sort of false-claims allegation, and they lacked some way to confirm compliance with relavent ANSI standards to back the data that they told you, then who knows what would happen. They are covering their own ass. The customer service person and lab manager are smart. They both could've got in trouble if they distributed that data to you. Its also not just legal reservations. They may have their own proprietary testing procedures or methods that they don't want to give insight to.
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