It concerns Stirling University's illegal refusal to abide by the Information Commissioner's decision - which I quote here - that they should release data to Philip Morris International.
So desperate are Stirling that, as Edmunds has discovered, they have set up a Facebook group specifically to create the illusion of some upsurge of popular revulsion at the very idea. Sadly, of the first five entries, four are paid to comment since they work in public health, and only one is not from Australia. From that unpromising start, it just goes downhill once the call to action alert drags in vested public sector interests from across the net to spout how outrageous it is that a University should be made to observe the law.
Some of the comments are hilarious:
Elaine Rodger - I was surprised and appalled in equal measure to know that it was even possible to try to use the FOI legislation in this way.Surprised and appalled that Freedom of Information legislation should make information - paid for by taxes that we, and companies, are forced to hand over - available to those who fund it, so she is. A law doing exactly what it says on the tin? How ridiculous!
Carole Furlong - They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the data. if they want to do thier (sic) own research on the best way to get young people addicted to a lethal product, they should fund it themselves.Great idea Carole, love, except that your piercing logic has been somewhat destroyed by ... Stirling University.
[Professor Gerard Hastings, of the uni's Institute for Social Marketing] said: "If Philip Morris ran focus groups asking 14-year-olds what they thought about smoking, there'd be uproar.Hmm, we'll take that as a non-starter then.
Vicki Snelgrove - [...] if there was an agreement not to share data beyond the study then surely the uni is bound over to their participants...This is the most wibblingly arrogant of the lot. A University, according to Vicki, is bound more by the people it chooses to canvass than it is by the law of the land. Despite the fact that - in accepting funding - the University would have been well aware of their obligations to satisfy the terms of the FOIA 2000. In fact, it would have been stated categorically in the document they signed before being given the cash. It's a standard clause when dealing with any public sector organisation.
If they want to offer promises to their subjects, perhaps they should have refused the funding in the first place. They quite simply - under the law - can't have both.
Just a quick aside, but doesn't this hint at the increasing sense of independence from accountability that all public health bodies now seem to operate by?
ASH (at least, this time, the English version) slung their oar in too.
Martin Dockrell - Our Government is supposed to be protecting health policy from the tobacco industry lobby machine. Handing over this information is putting our universtities (Freudian sic?) at the service of Britain's biggest killer.No, Martin. It puts our Universities at the service of those who pay for them. Remember us taxpayers? You know, the poor saps who pay your mortgage - and, indeed, that comment you just wrote on our time - you hideous tax-sponging creep?
Sam Warren - assurances were made to the participants in this study on how their data would be used and this data should NOT be shared.As above. Such assurances were arrogant, misguided, and illegal.
Claire Valentin - They should read the published research like everybody else. This FOI request clearly has wider implications for anyone doing research, in a number of respects.Yes it does, Claire. It means that if you want to keep research hidden, pay for it your bloody self.
Becky Freeman - Absolutely not. Sharing confidential research data with an industry that will surely exploit it for its own financial gain cannot be permitted. How could the public ever trust public health researchers again?You're making a wild assumption that any of us trust you as far as we could throw you, Becky. Of course, I can't throw you very far because you live in Australia, so what the fuck has it to do with you?
Robert West - It takes courage and determination to stand up to this kind of bullying.Join the club, Robert West of CRUK. It is government legislation which is the 'bully' here. You don't seem too concerned when you use such a thing to your own advantage, do you?
But the best of the lot comes from Australia's undisputed Champion of anti-smoker hatred..
Simon Chapman - The day Stirling should share its data, is the day that the tobacco industry shares its data on how much it now earns from underage smoking and its forward projections on what today's and future generations of child smokers will mean to its bottom line.I had so much to say about why Philip Morris have no obligation to reveal data in the same way as Stirling University definitely do. Fortunately, Tim Worstall has already articulated it wonderfully on the tangential subject of think tank funding.
I’m entirely happy with entirely voluntary disclosure on such matters: what individuals do with their money is up to them, just as what brand or style of bread you buy is private to you. What the money which has been raised from us at gunpoint gets spent on is rightly a matter of public record.And this is the problem Stirling face. Once they accepted tax-funded cash, they were legally obliged to abide by The Freedom of Information Act and, consequentially, the Information Commissioner's decisions. They knew this when they took the money, they will have signed a document to register acceptance of that fact. Stirling registered their objections to the ICO and they were roundly rejected. End of. Game over.
That Friends of the Earth Europe gets more than 50% of its funding from the EU, funding supplied so that it can lobby the EU, is important information. That Alcohol Concern gains some 90% (these numbers are from memory, do check them at Fake Charities if you wish) of its money from government, that the salt puritans, the smoking bansturbators, are similarly funded is equally important.
And I’ll even make a deal. When Deborah Arnott’s screen and radio appearances, public utterances, are accompanied by a “this wanker is paid for out of your taxes” warning then I’ll make sure that my income, and thus my funding, is similarly disclosed. Until then you’re all cordially invited to fornicate and travel.
Philip Morris, however, accept only money freely given to them by consumers, so are under no such obligation ... however much Chapman would like to fantasise about it. The difference could not be more stark.
Here's my advice to Stirling University, in Chapman's parlance for easy comprehension.
The day Stirling should be able to hide its data, is the day that they refuse all funding from the taxpayer for all of their activities. That means no more research grants; no more government subsidies; no more tax-funded salaries; nothing. Then, and only then, can they withhold information which is covered by the law.
To quote Martin Dockrell's ASH after the jailing of Nick Hogan.
A spokesman for anti-smoking lobby group ASH said: “The smoking legislation is very clear."As is Freedom of Information legislation. Rules is rules. Go private and leave our taxes alone, or cough up the info and stop bleating.