Friday, May 08, 2015

No, Your Beard Doesn't Have Poop In It

In this week's Internet-induced hysteria, bearded men everywhere were told "your beard has poop in it" or that it's as dirty as a toilet.

Thanks to a "study" conducted by "news station" KOAT of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the "average" male beard was found to have enteric bacteria in it, which are part of the microbes found in a human's gastrointestinal system (i.e. your gut).

In other words, said the "news" station, enteric bacteria is found in poop. Enteric bacteria is found in beards. Therefore, there is poop in men's beards.

Except there's not.

A recent article by microbiologist David Coil in Slate magazine (official motto: "We're the Internet's smart news") debunked the entire story as the same kind of stuff found in bulls' beards.

There may be a squirrel in there,
but there's no poop.
First of all, there are germs on everything.

Ev. Ree. Thang.

Your toilet. Your sink. Your computer keyboard. Your mobile phone. The TV remote in the hotel. Your TV remote at home. Your kitchen counters. Your pets. And, of course, your skin.

All of it.

Including the face part of your skin.

Basically, unless you live a completely sterile environment, and undergo frequent full body anti-bacterial wipe downs, everything on the planet has bacteria on it. This is a non-story.

The microbiologist KOAT interviewed said he found members of the Enterobacteriaceae family in the samples, which are found in the gut. But there are so many members of that family that, as Slate says, "assuming that finding enteric bacteria equates to finding feces is like saying that finding cat hair on your couch means you’re at risk of being eaten by a lion."

So will a swab test of your beard reveal germs? Absolutely. Would a hairless chin have germs too? You bet. The proper question to ask is whether beards have more enteric bacteria germs than clean-shaven chins.

Except the "news" channel didn't do that, because while that may be good science, it's not good gross-out TV.

If you want a good gross-out story, consider the public drinking fountain.

People slobber on them as they drink, and their bacteria is left to fester until the next person comes and drinks and slobbers on it themselves. Why do you think so many kids get sick at school?

The fountains even get so plugged up with biofilm and bacteria, school janitors use a special cleaning acid product called Ram Rod — a "heavy-duty, ready-to-use liquid drain cleaner for clearing drains clogged by organic matter" — to clean them out.

Think about that the next time you want a drink from a drinking fountain. Or try to rinse your beard out in one.

The story also didn't mention how many beards they tested, other than to say "a handful." How many is a handful? Not many.

Plus, would you really want to grab a handful of beard if you're worried it's got poop in it?

In a valid study, there would be dozens, if not a few hundred, of beards tested and compared to a similar number of clean-shaven faces, including women. They would all be tested at the same time of day, or a specific number of hours after bathing.

But when you're a "news" station concerned about making good gross-out TV, you don't have time to test a few hundred faces. You just pick a vague number, like a "handful," "smattering," or "gaggle," and declare those filthy few to be representative of the world's bearded population.

But just because they didn't do it right doesn't mean it hasn't been studied before. According to Slate, "a recent article titled 'Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study' concluded that health care workers with and without beards harbored similar numbers of bacteria."

Except that's 163 characters long, which means it's not sexy enough for Twitter. It's not Twitter-sexy.

"Twexy," one might say, if one had been hit in the head.

(Also, the study was published by a hospital — you know, the big building where a lot of science-y things happen — and we can't let science-y facts get in the way of a good gross-out TV news story.)

That's the biggest problem with this so-called news story: the oversimplification of the entire story into one attention-grabbing Twitter friendly headline.

That's why last week we were all subjected to "Your beard is as dirty as a toilet" (34 characters) and "Beards contain poop particles" (29 characters). When a single tweet is 140 characters long, you have to write the shortest, punchiest you can muster. And "Beards contain enteric bacteria, as does everything else" just doesn't have the same pizzaz as headlines about poop.

Plus, it's just fun to say "poop" in a professional setting. You should try it some time. I said it eight times in this article alone.

Which is why I love my job.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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