Validity of water standards by committee with industry input

Water analysis, treatment, and mineral recipes for optimum taste and equipment health.
Ken Fox

#1: Post by Ken Fox »

Marshall wrote:Yes. SCAA's Technical Standard Committee published updated water quality standards last November. They are here for free: http://www.scaa.org/PDF/ST%20-%20WATER% ... V2009A.pdf.

The more complete Water Quality Handbook, which was published at the same time, is available for purchase at http://www.scaa.org for, I think, about $25.
Yes, and you will be pleased to know, that one of the head honchos on the committee that wrote these "standards" happens to run a company that sells water treatment equipment and that happens to be a financial sponsor of said association. Conflict of interest? No. I'm sure that Marshall can explain why that is not the case.

Or, come to think of it, why not just call up Cirqua and see if they will send you one of those books for free? You will save $25, and I'm sure it won't impact their promotional budget very much.

ken



...split from Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ by moderator...
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

dialydose

#2: Post by dialydose »

Ken Fox wrote:Yes, and you will be pleased to know, that one of the head honchos on the committee that wrote these "standards" happens to run a company that sells water treatment equipment and that happens to be a financial sponsor of said association. Conflict of interest? No. I'm sure that Marshall can explain why that is not the case.

Or, come to think of it, why not just call up Cirqua and see if they will send you one of those books for free? You will save $25, and I'm sure it won't impact their promotional budget very much.
And, we're off! Your distaste for the fact that people in the water quality industry sit on a committee on water quality is well documented. But by your logic, pretty much everything the SCAA does would need disclaimers and conflict acknowledgments.

Ken Fox (original poster)

#3: Post by Ken Fox (original poster) » replying to dialydose »

Are you proposing that the SCAA is not conflicted, and is a source of unbiased information on coffee water quality (or anything else?). I'm not saying the SCAA is a bad organization, far from it. But you have to be careful how you view "information" that comes out of it, or out of any similar type of association.

The SCAA is a trade association, whose purpose is to serve their members and sponsors, virtually all of whom are in the business of selling coffee and coffee related stuff. I have no problem at all with the SCAA; I'm sure that they do a good job for those they represent, and I'd imagine that most members are happy with the service that they get. What I have a problem with is that we in the consumer community should view them as some sort of arbiter of standards and taste on our end. This is where we as consumers risk becoming "groupies," thinking that those offering us "information" do so solely out of the goodness of their hearts and an interest in "furthering science."

To treat the SCAA as being a trustworthy, unconflicted, all-knowing source of coffee information is simply foolish. It would be analogous to letting Microsoft and Intel, or their trade group, tell you what sort of IT equipment you should buy and how you should set it up to meet your business's needs. What you would get as advice would almost certainly be self-serving. The SCAA should be viewed in exactly the same light.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

gscace

#4: Post by gscace »

Ken Fox wrote:Yes, and you will be pleased to know, that one of the head honchos on the committee that wrote these "standards" happens to run a company that sells water treatment equipment and that happens to be a financial sponsor of said association. Conflict of interest? No. I'm sure that Marshall can explain why that is not the case.

Or, come to think of it, why not just call up Cirqua and see if they will send you one of those books for free? You will save $25, and I'm sure it won't impact their promotional budget very much.

ken
Could you please educate me with respect to particular problems with the standards that were adopted? Are there particular problems with who was involved in writing the standards? In my day job as an engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, I do standards work, and have participated in establishing standards. Usually there are industry experts involved in setting standards because they are in tune with the needs of a particular industry, and because the work needs to be done by folks who know what the problems are, folks who have a good grasp of the technical issues, and folks with a good understanding of the tools that are available for problem solving.

A solution to allowing industry insiders to set standards is to sufficiently fund non-industry groups tasked with establishing and maintaining standards. Unfortunately that sort of funding doesn't seem to sit well with lots of folks. And industry input is still very necessary, regardless of who establishes a particular standard.


-Greg

dialydose

#5: Post by dialydose »

Ken Fox wrote:Are you proposing that the SCAA is not conflicted, and is a source of unbiased information on coffee water quality (or anything else?). I'm not saying the SCAA is a bad organization, far from it. But you have to be careful how you view "information" that comes out of it, or out of any similar type of association.
I agree, but I guess I take a less cynical view of things. I don't get upset at the relationships, but rather, take them for what they are worth...as you suggest. I don't view a basic "guideline" on water quality as some sort of conspiracy to sell me equipment because representatives from that industry sit on the committee.

I completely understand where you are coming from and I agree that you have to take all information, from any source, for what it is worth. But if you re-read your past posts on this, the passion and anger about what I view as a fairly benign topic is palpable. The SCAA has some valuable information and is a piece of the puzzle of information on coffee.

And I trust everything Microsoft tells me, what choice do I have? :wink:

Ken Fox (original poster)

#6: Post by Ken Fox (original poster) »

gscace wrote:Could you please educate me with respect to particular problems with the standards that were adopted? Are there particular problems with who was involved in writing the standards? In my day job as an engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, I do standards work, and have participated in establishing standards. Usually there are industry experts involved in setting standards because they are in tune with the needs of a particular industry, and because the work needs to be done by folks who know what the problems are, folks who have a good grasp of the technical issues, and folks with a good understanding of the tools that are available for problem solving.

A solution to allowing industry insiders to set standards is to sufficiently fund non-industry groups tasked with establishing and maintaining standards. Unfortunately that sort of funding doesn't seem to sit well with lots of folks. And industry input is still very necessary, regardless of who establishes a particular standard.


-Greg
Hi Greg,

As much as I would enjoy rehashing all of this, Marshall started a thread in early July that addresses all these issues and more. I suggest you read it, TDS & Water Softening: The SCAA Water Quality Handbook first and then if you have any other questions I'd be delighted to comment further.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

Ken Fox (original poster)

#7: Post by Ken Fox (original poster) »

dialydose wrote:I agree, but I guess I take a less cynical view of things. I don't get upset at the relationships, but rather, take them for what they are worth...as you suggest. I don't view a basic "guideline" on water quality as some sort of conspiracy to sell me equipment because representatives from that industry sit on the committee.

I completely understand where you are coming from and I agree that you have to take all information, from any source, for what it is worth. But if you re-read your past posts on this, the passion and anger about what I view as a fairly benign topic is palpable. The SCAA has some valuable information and is a piece of the puzzle of information on coffee.

And I trust everything Microsoft tells me, what choice do I have? :wink:
I don't think I am really angry, but I do get a bit upset when Cirqua trots out their well-worn coffee and water demonstration showing that what they do with water treatment is the best way to get quality results when making coffee beverages. This demonstration involves taking all the minerals out of water then selectively remineralizing it, and showing the differences in the results at different levels of remineralization.

It goes without saying that deionized water makes crappy coffee beverages, and that if you take demineralized water and add back in "enough" minerals you will get better results. But this is a false comparison and it takes no consideration of what sort of water comes into the tap in different places. This is why I liken this demonstration to a "circus act," the sort of thing you might see from someone hawking kitchen wares on the boardwalk of an east coast beach resort. I find it intellectually dishonest and an insult to the intelligence of anyone who pauses to think about it for more than a few seconds.

I have no doubt that what Cirqua and other companies sell is good equipment that would be a good choice for some cafe owners in certain locations, depending on their baseline tap water. If you do what they recommend you will end up with boiler scale and will need to do preventative descaling of your machine on a regular basis.

The problem I have is with the idea of home users picking up on this and treating it uncritically, as received wisdom from on high, without respect to the chemical and sensory composition of their own incoming tap water. There are other ways to treat water that produce good results, at a much lower cost, and without risking boiler scale. To quote industry promotional material as if it is the be all and end all, the end of the discussion because these people "know better," that is what really annoys me and it should annoy more than just me, because we are not just talking about my expenditures and my equipment, but all of yours, also.

We in the advanced home user community should not get so close to the industry that we cannot distinguish what may be best for them, for what may work well for us.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

User avatar
HB
Admin

#8: Post by HB »

Split from Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ. To avoid needless repetition, readers of this thread may wish to refer to TDS & Water Softening: The SCAA Water Quality Handbook for similar points made in the previous discussion of this topic.
Dan Kehn

Ken Fox (original poster)

#9: Post by Ken Fox (original poster) » replying to HB »

Amen. I just hope that everyone reading this side thread will realize that I did not set out intentionally to start a thread on the credibility of the SCAA.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

User avatar
another_jim
Team HB

#10: Post by another_jim »

Two words: Peer Review.

Standards are written with industry input all the time, this is completely uncontroversial. But when a binding standard is authored by just one supplying company, it almost always raises protests by other suppliers and by users who feel they may be stuck with a monopolist. The reason nobody except us hobbyists is worried about this standard is that it isn't used in binding documents.

Whenever standards, like those of the ISO, are used as a matter of course for contract specifications, controversial standards are peer reviewed in the relevant journals, or sent to neutral, respected engineering companies for the equivalent of a peer review.

For instance, suppose cafe water treatment systems were customarily bought via an RFP which contained binding specifications. And suppose that the SCAA were seen as a valid source for such specifications; which is something that every self respecting industry association attempts to become. Then the form and origin of this water treatment document would be suspect as soon as people found out that only the one company authoring it could fulfill the requirements.

But the SCAA does not act as a full scale industry association; it leaves that to the NCA. So it doesn't do specifications, it only does recommendations.

Back when the SCAA regarded itself as the organization that was the voice of all specialty coffee, from grower to drinker, its recommendations were carefully considered. Now, I'm no longer sure if it still regards itself as this voice. Sadly, without this self definition, it serves no purpose; if roasters and cafes just want a regular industry association, they are better off joining the NCA.

Just in case you're not sure what it means to be the voice of specialty coffee; here is an old document by Paul Katzeff, former SCAA president, the Cupper's Manifesto. Read it, and think about today's SCAA.
Jim Schulman