Thursday 1 September 2011

Vindication In One Day And An Indirect Endorsement In The Indy

Sometimes I feel truly charmed. The article I penned this morning on a cloaked leftist agenda amongst public health advocates has been spectacularly illustrated by The Independent today, with a front page broadside against tobacco companies.

Since, presumably, precious few here can be arsed to keep an eye out for the right-on rag's progressive wibblings (it's not just the content, their website is tediously slow and bug-ridden too), pictorial evidence is below courtesy of Joshua Lachkovic.

It would appear that their ire has been piqued by the outrageous behaviour - outrageous, so it is - of Philip Morris in asking for information to which they are perfectly entitled under the FOIA. In fact, not only do PMI believe they are legally entitled to it, so does the Information Commissioner.


The Commissioner finds that the University of Stirling (the University) failed to comply with Part 1 (and in particular section 1(1)) of FOISA) in refusing to comply with Philip Morris International’s request for information under section 14(1) of FOISA.

The Commissioner also found that the University’s request for clarification under section 1(3) of FOISA was unnecessary and unreasonable and that, given this fact, the University breached section 10(1) of FOISA in responding to the request.

The Commissioner also found that the University did not fulfil its duty under section 15 of FOISA in relation to providing advice and assistance to Philip Morris International.

The Commissioner therefore requires the University of Stirling to respond to Philip Morris International’s request for information in terms of Part 1 of FOISA, other than in terms of section 14(1) by 5 September 2011.
Wow! Now, I'd say that looks pretty emphatic. Yet Stirling University seem to think that the law doesn't apply to them.

"Most fundamentally this information was given to us by young people in complete confidence," [Prof Gerard Hastings, of the university's Centre for Tobacco Control Research] said. "We assured them we would treat it with absolute confidence and that it would be restricted to the research."
You may remember Hastings, I've mentioned before how he is running around Scotland and Wales advising the anti-alcohol lobby how to demonise booze in the same way as his publicly-funded lot have done with tobacco.

'Publicly-funded' being the operative word(s) here, because Hastings seems to think that he is allowed to take our taxes for studies, but keep the results hidden from those who ask to see them.

His assurance that the information would definitely be kept solely for his team's eyes only is either 1) woefully naïve 2) irresponsibly misleading, or 3) jaw-droppingly dismissive of the law and its powers. Whichever option you choose, reality dictates that it wasn't his place to make such a promise, and that using his own inadequacy as an excuse for not satisfying the request is laughable and irrelevant.

There must be some right damning stuff in there to prompt such a dogged defence. I mean, there they were expecting to be given carte blanche to issue some of their usual dodgy science by press release direct to the Beeb, and next thing you know they're being asked to reveal their pre-determined methodology for proper scrutiny. It's just not fair, is it?

The Independent's Steve Connor was tasked with ramping up the threat of this innocuous request to the level of world-shattering alarm. Not that he would have taken much persuading considering his past record of pliant anti-tobacco advocacy. But even by his own standards - he has attracted the attention of Bad Science and others in the past for nonsense science reporting - his desperate padding out of a non-story with cherry-picked bullshit is quite hilarious.

Beginning with bang up-to-date documents from 1953, he takes us through more vitally relevant 1960s and 1970s writings from people probably long dead, before alighting on the 1992 EPA report which was rubbished in a US Court, and the 1998 SCOTH study compiled by a panel riddled with those with a vested interest in NRT. And all this under a headline hinting at dirty tricks and misinformation from the other side. Yet if a reciprocal article had been written quoting Enstrom & Kabat - the largest study of its kind - or the most comprehensive study to date on heart attacks and passive smoking, Connor would have no doubt cried foul and complained of cherry-picking himself.

And as for this ...

Their fight against these proposals is again based on undermining the scientific evidence that plain packaging can reduce the number of children and young adults who take up smoking.
... I'd love to know how someone who has been vocal in his condemnation of those accusing him of promoting junk science can possibly square such an assertion when there is simply no science available on the matter. How can there be when it hasn't been attempted yet?

The Indy carries on with a generic contribution from CRUK's Jean King - a co-funder of Stirling University's *cough* science - who is doubtless equally as pissed off as Hastings at having to comply with the law.

How dare those who pay taxes ask to see the results they have paid for, eh? Such insolence!

Finally, the whole sorry episode is topped off with a sob story from that shameless gobbler of tax funding pristine purveyor of truth, Linda Bauld, who may well have been referencing your old pal Dick here.

University researchers have been sent hate emails and some have even received anonymous phone calls, which usually come after a series of blogs posted on pro-smoking websites, including at least one which is linked to the tobacco industry.

Linda Bauld, professor of socio-management at Stirling University's Institute for Social Marketing, says she was unprepared for the scale of the personal attacks aimed at discrediting her work on smoking behaviour and anti-smoking legislation.
Listen, love. While I agree that threats are totally unacceptable, if you will insist on talking bollocks in pursuit of derogating the lives of others, what else did you expect? Cry your crocodile tears if you like, but console yourself by wiping your nose on the Department of Health cheques you are happy to cash. OK?

I don't know if Philip Morris people read here but, if they do, well done for putting the wind up these pompous, self-righteous arseholes. If the study is above board and run for the purposes of truth rather than propaganda, they have absolutely nothing to fear. There is no threat to privacy of kids - as hinted at by these charlatans - because it would have been identified by the ICO.

It's clear that the only possible threat is to the integrity of publicly-funded operations such as Stirling University if it is revealed more widely that they have been playing fast and loose with evidence to the detriment of people's lives.

Congrats, Philip Morris, you've highlighted the self-serving arrogance of anti-tobacco along with the lax standards of left-leaning media in one simple - but effective - Freedom of Information request.

No wonder Tony Blair spoke in his autobiography of his biggest mistake being the FOIA 2000. It's a right bugger for control freaks everywhere, ain't it?

UPDATE: Via Belinda, even the BMJ have come out in favour of Philip Morris and scoffed at the stance taken by Stirling University and The Independent.

Steve Connor is isolated as a science correspondent, and the University are not only wrong to resist, but also have no backing from those they might have relied upon. Glorious own goal, doncha think?


Christopher Snowdon said...

I am rendered speechless by the news that this cruddy story was a front page splash and called an exclusive! Jesus Christ, even I didn't bother mentioning this month-old non-story on a blog that is largely devoted to tobacco news.

The Independent seems to be the last outpost for crybaby anti-smoking employees to have a moan. If I remember rightly, The Independent was the only paper to report ASH's recent report about tobacco industry lobbying. Does Deborah Arnott have compromising photos of the editor?

Smoking Hot said...

l'm really getting to love the FOI. I just posted today the shelf life figures of tobacco as used by the UKBA ... all courtesy of FOI.

The thing is, it costs nothing to send one in. lf you don't get the terminology right at first try ... send another ... then another.

Great fun but gets info they don't really want you to have. Happy days :)

Dick Puddlecote said...

Snowdon: "a blog that is largely devoted to tobacco news"

So it'll be you being beastly to poor flower Linda too, then. For shame! ;)

Xopher said...

Do students studying 'tobacco Control' have to sign up an (un)official secrecy act courtesy of the WHO Framework for Tobacco Control (FCTC) OR are they drummed at the first sign of integrity?
Let's hear it from the failed students!

Belinda said...

A Guardian writer has also come out against Stirling University ...

Belinda said...

There are two documents from the Scottish Information Commissioner and I haven't worked out the difference yet. The one I used is here: dated 30 June.

Anonymous said...

I am getting a bit worried. Why do I smell a rat?
let us suppose that these stats are perfectly reasonable in the sense that the methodology is ok, even though the questions were stupid?

There has just this minute been a report about this on the BBC. Hastings pronounced about confidentiality. Have Philip Morris asked for names and addresses?

How odd!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the names and addresses will turn out to not all be legitimate but some (or all) concocted. Or, maybe there was a money payment to students to answer questions with "the right answers". Could be something like that too.

Anonymous said...

The not very Independent is pulling comments as well.

George Speller said...

I simply can't understand the problem. After all, if they've nothing to hide they've nothing to fear, right?

Anonymous said...

As I understand it from Anne Edward's interview on radio yesterday, PM haven't asked for names and addresses. They don't need them to scrutinise the integrity of the 'study' which, let's face it, were it not in the hands of TC but in those of an independent market research company, would be called what it is: a piece of quantitative social research whose data are elicited by a questionnaire from a (representative) sample, collected by a nice lady with a clipboard standing in the street waylaying teens. That (and the analysis and findings) would all be transparent in the report from a decent research company....

But what happens now? Does the SIC have the power to prosecute Stirling if it continues to fail to fully comply?

Pat Nurse MA said...

I think PMI wanted info on how this study was done and who was involved but not necessarily by demanding confidential information like names and addresses which simply would not be given.

I think we should be told otherwise how do we know that any study "result" has not been made up or achieved by fraudulent means.

Good on Philip Morris. It's time Big Tobacco started to stick up for it's little consumer.

Sam Duncan said...

“professor of socio-management”


Anonymous said...

As a well educated ,widely travelled Englishman I find it beyond my comprehension that there are still some people ,if that is the right word,who read papers like the Independent and that other
degenerate rag ,The Guardian.
How on earth can this nation posssibly avoid the abyss with
these two tormented tittle tattling
bleeding heart comics on public sale.They reflect only concern
for whackos,weirdos,freaks,hobbits,
and prison emptiers.

Ground Control

Fredrik Eich said...

I find it disturbing that Dr Linda Bauld has been on the receiving end of uninvited and hostile phone calls. I have been peppering the blogo-sphere with quote's from Dr Bauld that I consider to be relevant to professional anti-smoking. I will continue to do it but I don't like the fact that some people are so weak as to make it personal. There is no excuse to treat people this way. Tobacco control will ultimately be defeated by reason and science because tobacco control has never understood reason and science. Tobacco control is about tobacco control and nothing else, all other considerations are irrelevant to tobacco control. Tobacco control has been out of control for too long now, tobacco control is causing too much damage to human relationships to sustain its self , tobacco control is self-oppressed and therefore weak.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Frederik. Personal attacks are the province of the anti-smoking movement itself and are counterproductive and unnecessary. Why lower ourselves to their dirty-tricks level? As more and more people begin to question the science behind smoking and ETS, and begin to ask all those questions which the anti-smoking movement hoped they’d never ask and really, really don’t want to answer, there’s simply no need to try and pressurise individual anti-smoking activists into stopping. For starters, they never will – they’re too entrenched and embroiled in their “cause” to stop now; but more importantly, they’ll fall on their own swords soon enough and that will be much, much more satisfying to see if it happens against a background of calm dignity and simple, persistent questioning from our side. That way, we come out of this the good guys and they finish the story as the evilly-chuckling crooks who have finally (and with very bad grace) been rumbled.

It is, of course, a pity, though depressingly inevitable, that (once again) the papers have chosen to cast this as a story about the “wicked” tobacco companies, and thus completely fail to highlight the somewhat suspect - to say the least - refusal of Stirling University to release their information when requested, which is surely the story which should concern everyone – smokers and non-smokers – alike here. After all if, as they so often declare about all of their other “studies,” the evidence is “overwhelmingly” in favour of their suggested action on plain packaging, you’d think that they would be only to keen to publicise both the method and the findings far and wide. So - why aren't they? Well, it hardly takes Einstein to work that one out, does it?

JuliaM said...

Sadly for those in the Freedom of Information biz, the mealy-mouthed apologia for Stirling's stance taken by the Director of their organisation should give them shivers.

What's their motto? 'We think information should be free....unless our Director is an anti-smoker, in which case, it shouldn't!'

I've got a post on this coming up on Orphans of Liberty.

john miller said...

Their website is slow. so is your computer when you go on it.

That's because it's rooting around finding out all the sites you've visited and checking out the zillion cookies stored on your computer.

Then it provides advertising related to things you've looked at on other sites, like fridges and whatnot.

But that invasion of your privacy for their profit is OK, because they're left-wing.

John S said...

I assumed that this 'study' would have been peer-reviewed (by other rabid or mercenary 'scientists'!) and published before being released to the press (I'm joking of course!). In publishing it, the 'methodology' used would have been stated and be subject to scrutiny (I'm joking again!). All I could find was a 'press release" by the university (deja vu!). What are they hiding?

P.S. Nice plug for Marlboro by the Indie!