"Paper Coffee Filter" Articles

"Paper coffee filter" articles (or "Paper coffee filter" stories) are planted reports or articles alleging a fictitious malady or hazard which is "magically" cured by some commercial product. The term originates from a series of stories of imaginary harmful components in coffee that are "magically" absorbed by paper coffee filters (but not permanent filters).

More succinctly, a "Paper Coffee Filter" article is a deliberately false article (or fake scientific article if you want) disseminated to advance (typically) a commercial goal.

The Paper Coffee Filter

First story - enhanced carcinogens
The original "Paper Coffee Filter" story was that coffee (or maybe fresh-ground coffee) was found to contain a super-potent carcinogen, and of course this super-potent carcinogen extracted into brewed coffee. This carcinogen would pass a steel mesh filter, but magically was absorbed by commercial paper filters.

Eventually, that story lost traction because people realised this "fresh-ground coffee cancer" was fake.

(There was a proposal to require a Prop. 65 warning on coffee. That related to acrylamide from roasting and of course had no relationship to coffee filters. While acrylamide remains an issue, the FDA petitioned to remove coffee from the warnings. The obvious purpose to the proposed warning was an attempt to find something to render Prop. 65 warnings ineffective.)
Second story - mil. spec. cholesterol.
A revised variant (same story; different scare tactic) was that coffee contains a super-industrial-strength form of cholesterol. (This variant had visual appeal because coffee oils tend to leave a viscous residue on grinding equipment, thus lending a aire of credibility to the story.) Naturally, a paper coffee filter would either convert or filter this magic cholesterol but a steel mesh filter wouldn't.

This second story had the advantage of visual appearance of oil residue on coffee grinders, etc. The physical appearance has no effect, but makes a nice visual substitute for actual peer-reviewed studies.
The reader was expected to ignore the fact that both filters are sized to block medium-gound coffee grinds, and both have a negligible effect on filtering the brewed liquid itself.

The reader is of course expected to accept the scientific validity of the [bovine scatology]. If the reader repeats it (which is apparently quite likely, given the frequency that other hoaxes spread on the internet), the "Paper Coffee Filter" story picks up credibility.

Indications of "Paper Coffee Filter" stories

•   The story originates from a "one-off" source.
... more to the point, a "one-off" article with no peer-reviewed attribution.

The reason "Paper Coffee Filter" stories work is someone is able to insert the article in a complicit publication. Typically these are news aggregation websites that are willing to publish stories without attribution. Sites with "listicles" are obvious, but some previously-reputable publishers that now are not adverse to publishing unattributed [bovine scatology] for a price.

This is a little like a local news flyer publishing an "article" by a chiropractor, except at a national level of sophisticated presentation.

•   The story matches an obvious economic interest.
In the case of the paper coffee filter, the interest is in the manufacture and distribution of paper coffee filters themselves.

For some stories, the economic interest is less obvious. While there is aan obvious economic incentive for a series of articles on the "hazards" of grain-free dog food, the real targets ("hit job targets") are not all that apparent. Still the purpose is to eliminate competition. Convince enough purchasers that the competition is producing a "dangerous" product and you don't need to compete on quality (or reduce your prices).

Example - grain-free dog food story
This one follows a recent trend of following a segment of a real story, in this case, a (US) FDA study. The study itself identified certain breeds (mostly large breeds such as Golden Retriever). Significantly, the study identified insufficient taurine in the dog food formulation. The story differs from other "paper coffee filter stories" in that the underlying story was partially valid (although no longer valid by the time it was actually published).

Taurine is an amino acid present in meat. Cat food has always had a full nutritional amount of taurine added because cats are obligate carnivores. The FDA discovered that some breeds of dogs are unable to synthesize taurine, causing taurine deficiency. Obviously, after the FDA report, all producers will supplement grain-free food with taurine or two related amino acids (methionine and cystine that dogs then use to produce their own taurine -- apparently the methionine and cystine naturally occur in the grain).

Taurine is already added to cat food, so this would have been a simple fix. More to the point, there is no reason to believe that all dog food companies (in particular boutique or smaller food companies) had not added these nutrients in response to the FDA study.

The "take-away" is that, by the time this dog food version of a "grain-free" paper coffee filter was published, the underlying issue was no longer valid!
•   The story purports to have a scientific or researched basis but "accidentally" doesn't link to an actual peer-reviewed article.

•   The story is found in a publication that regularly publishes industry "hit pieces".

•   A parallel dog food paper coffee filter story (perhaps from the same public relations firm) alleges that dogs are malnourished by dog food not supplied by a handful of major manufacturers.

Expect partially supported claims

Citing a credible authority may make sense sometimes, but in other instances the authority is either irrelevant or is unverifiable.

•   "Paper coffee filter" articles differ from other P.R. "hit jobs" in that paper coffee filter stores typically do not requires a "conspiracy theory" or innuendo for the explanation to work.

First posted 8-Sep-19. Last revised 8-Sep-19.

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