Tuesday 25 March 2014

Don't Listen To Them, We're The Only Experts!

Now this is what I call desperate.

After seeing their attempts to disguise flimsy circumstantial nonsense in favour of plain packaging as compelling evidence being widely rubbished, the tobacco control industry - this time in the form of Bath University - has been pitifully reduced to pleading that only their voice should be respected. In fact, more than that, they question the entire premise of anyone but public health being consulted at all!

The Bath Chronicle yesterday reported what their local Uni hoped they would.
Researchers in Bath today attempted to demolish the arguments put up by the tobacco industry against plain packaging for cigarettes. 
In a hard-hitting report, experts from the University of Bath say the industry has been “reprehensible” and has put forward “highly misleading” arguments to an official investigation into the subject.
The operative word there, though, is "attempted" because the report itself comes across as a tired last throw of the dice in advance of imminent publication of the Chantler Review. 

Co-authored by ubiquitous tobacco control grant hoover Anna Gilmore, its 15 pages can be accurately condensed into a bleat of "don't listen to them, we're the only experts!".

From the first page, it bemoans the fact that rules on regulation insist on all affected parties being consulted, not just those whose job relies on thinking up daft ideas in the first place.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, governments globally have sought to transform policymaking and regulatory activity through a number of reforms collectively known in Europe as Better Regulation. 
In the UK, Better Regulation is underpinned by neoliberal assumptions concerning business competitiveness, and official guidance declares that regulation should not ‘impose costs and obligations’ on business and other groups ‘unless a robust and compelling case has been made. This process in turn requires the methodical identification and valuation of all potential costs and benefits of proposed regulation, achieved predominantly through impact assessment and stake-holder consultation. Officials are obliged to seek the views of stakeholders, including corporations, on the government’s cost and benefit estimates as well as underlying ‘key assumptions and data’. Commercial entities that will be affected by proposed regulation are thus given an explicit role in evaluating, confirming, or disputing evidence used in formulating those policies.
To the rest of society, this would seem entirely reasonable. If a measure is likely to damage businesses by way of costs or other burdens, it is only fair that they should be consulted, and the case being made should absolutely be robust and compelling. It's not a "neoliberal assumption" to say that destroying jobs and businesses without sound justification is fundamentally wrong and that politicians should be aware of all differing opinions before passing legislation. 

This does, however, pose a significant problem for tobacco controllers when their case is not only far from 'compelling', but also often irrelevant and occasionally fraudulent, hence today's published report.
TTCs [Transnational Tobacco Companies (make it big, make it scary - DP)] have systematically sought to fabricate doubt and controversy over evidence unfavourable to their interests by labelling research demonstrating tobacco’s harms as ‘junk science’, commissioning their own research to challenge established evidence on tobacco’s harms or policy impacts, and promoting a set of industry-specified scientific standards collectively termed ‘sound science’ and ‘good epidemiology practices’.
That's probably because a vast amount of public health 'research' is, indeed, junk science and has been for a very long time. This one on plain packs serving times, for example, is incontrovertible codswallop, as is the one which was press released to produce this headline ...
Designer packs being used to lure new generation of smokers
... despite the study behind it declaring that ...
"There was little prior awareness of the packs used in the focus groups" 
"It appeared that participants were seeing most of the packs used in the focus groups for the first time" 
"The pack appeared peripheral compared with the cigarette in youth smoking, particularly at the initiation/experimentation stage" 
"Some said they never really saw the pack being used it was just the cigarette that was passed around"
Understandable, then, why Gilmore and her Bath Uni friends are so irked at calls for ‘sound science’ and ‘good epidemiology practices’, eh? They'd prefer to resist both as much as is humanly possible.

Their response is to condemn any conflicting opinion because, you see, they are the only "experts" and no-one else should have a say. At all (page 6).
The industry critiques of SP [Standardised Packaging] studies and the Moodie review were all framed by the discipline of market research and associated methodological conventions. The experts’ disciplinary backgrounds included law, marketing, psychology, management, economics, and statistics; none declared expertise in tobacco control or public health.
Because, if you're not a tobacco controller, you shouldn't be listened to. No, seriously, that's what they are saying! All those other disciplines are completely irrelevant according to tobacco controllers, despite all of them being undeniably relevant to the debate about plain packaging.

The referenced Moodie review, however, is to be held up as the gold standard since it only features cheerleaders for plain packaging and cites only those who are wildly enthusiastic in support of plain packaging

The Bath Uni 'scholars' make the point again on page 7.
One industry criticism of the Moodie review was that it was ‘inherently biased and self-interested’ (which it was - DP) because its authors were ‘proponents and advocates of plain packaging’ (which they were - DP) who worked together and ‘recycled’ information and methodologies (which they did - DP). This argument indicates a misunderstanding of scientific work. Evidence synthesis requires the collaboration of scientists/academics with a range of relevant expertise working in the same or related fields and whose work is subject to peer-review.
In other words, we all work together and like what we write. Others who write stuff we don't agree with, not so much, so stop listening to them.

Oh yeah, and in case you got that far and still didn't understand their point, it was emphasised 'for luck' on page 12.
Genuine scientific critique, on the other hand, is typically conducted by those located within the same scientific subculture (discipline/specialty) because only they ‘may be truly in a position to evaluate each other’s competence’ and is aimed at improving the work so that it can contribute to ‘the larger enterprise of creating new knowledge’.
This is almost religious in its hilarity. Only true believers are capable of assessing the evidence and the competence of those producing it. Outsiders are just interfering in the faith so should butt out, no matter how much their input might piss on tobacco control chips. 

Quite incredible!

There is some stunning hypocrisy on offer, too, such as this on page 11.
In addition, they disregarded the consistency in the evidence for SP and tried to divert attention away from packaging to an alternative, less relevant body of evidence
In much the same way as the tobacco control industry has diverted attention from their much-promoted, and only, justifiable reason for plain packaging - preventing kids from starting smoking - in favour of talking about calls to quitlines by current smokers, current smokers displaying their packs, and current smokers not enjoying them so much anymore. But tobacco control is allowed to do that, see, cos they're the only 'experts', so they are.

That isn't an isolated instance of astonishing chutzpah either. Vapers might be amazed to see how Bath Uni condemns the tobacco industry for precisely the same methods employed by their colleagues to demand crippling regulation of e-cigs on page 6.
Because observational evidence cannot be obtained without the introduction of SP, JTI, BAT, and industry experts effectively locked themselves into a nihilistic position that could potentially prevent the introduction of SP indefinitely: SP could not be introduced without evidence that it changed actual smoking behaviours; this evidence could not be obtained without the introduction of SP; and since SP could not be introduced without this evidence, SP could never be introduced.
Let's just substitute a few words there, shall we?
Because observational evidence cannot be obtained without long-term use of e-cigs, tobacco control experts effectively lock themselves into a nihilistic position that could potentially prevent the widespread use of e-cigs indefinitely: E-cigs cannot be allowed to flourish without evidence that they change actual smoking behaviours; this evidence cannot be obtained without e-cigs being allowed to flourish; and since e-cigs cannot be allowed to flourish without this evidence, e-cigs can never be allowed to flourish.
Consistency is not their strong point, is it?

Needless to say, much like tobacco control studies spanning decades, the only real consistency in this report is the industry's customary shying away from anything which might severely compromise the illusion their campaign seeks to create around whichever campaign they are devoting themselves to at any particular time.
"We only focused on those sections dealing with whether SP would achieve the intended public health outcomes; we did not analyse sections on unintended consequences (economic, illicit trade, legal) that also cite and present different types of evidence"
Well, of course not. Unintended consequences are not their concern; perpetuating their salaries unencumbered by inconvenient counter-debate, however, is. 

Hence this barrel-scraper of a report which attempts - as the Bath Chronicle shrewdly observed - to claim that conflicting contributions to consultations by anyone else but public health cliques should be ignored, despite it being quite clear that such input is fair, necessary and firmly part of a proper system of regulation in any civilised country.

Fortunately, it fails badly. Whether politicians and civil servants will recognise that, of course, is a different matter. 


Entropy said...

When the validity of the views of one grant-soaked shyster are dependent on the support of other grant-soaked shysters, one has to wonder about the efficacy of the peer-review process.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Funny you should say that. Peer review is a straw they clutch at repeatedly throughout the report. Their evidence, you understand, has been read by their friends, whereas other evidence has not.

So you have to have access to journals (which the public cannot and tobacco companies are not allowed) and a gaggle of friends to check your spelling, or else you can't join in the debate?

These people should be the ones ignored by politicians on the basic tenet of equality of access, let alone their rent-seeking distortion of what they also refer to throughout as "science".

Mac McCubbin said...

‘the larger enterprise of creating new knowledge’

Creating? I was under the impression that knowledge derived from the process of discovery not artifice. Freudian slip much?

Peem Birrell said...

- 2+2 = 5.

- No, it's not it's 4.

- No, it's 5. Our calculations were peer reviewed.

- I'm sorry, it's 4.

- Don't pay any attention to him he works for Casio, the calculator people.

Dick_Puddlecote said...


Interestingly, scrutiny of Anna's references for the report show that Wikipedia is cited as a perfect source (aren't schoolchildren told that it's not?), while Anna also references her own work four times and Bath University's Tobacco Tactics site another three.

So, in a report castigating others for saying that tobacco control is "inherently biased and self-interested" and that it "recycles" information, the report recycles information and is inherently biased and self-interested.

You really couldn't make this shit up!

Sam Duncan said...

“regulation should not ‘impose costs and obligations’ on business and
other groups ‘unless a robust and compelling case has been made.”

Crikey, what a concept, eh? Instead of taking people's money and forcing them to do stuff at your whim, you actually have to prove that there's some kind of point to it all? And the people you're ordering around and robbing imposing costs upon are actually allowed to say why they don't like it? Sheesh. Where will it all end? They'll be giving the buggers a vote next.

moonrakin said...

Y'all probaly know about it but if you don't ... there's an academic chap recently arrived at Bristol University from the land down under who's a monumental shyster and then some. Said arse did some research fabricated a load of twaddle, published , got mugged by a bunch of people he mis-quoted / misrepresented,and got dobbed in for violation of academic ethics - investigated and exonerated himself and continues to spout epic quantities of toxic trash whilst lavishly funded by The Royal Society...

Sheesh, where's the garlic, holy water, sharpened fence posts and silver bullets?

Stephen Lewindowski Is it something in the West Country water?

What the.... said...


Michael J. McFadden said...

Absolutely beautiful analysis Dick! I'd point out the high points, but I'd basically just be copy/pasting your whole piece! Wonderfully done... a lot of work!

Peem: LOL! "He works for Casio!" heehee....


Dick_Puddlecote said...

Absurd, isn't it? How very dare they?!? ;)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Ha! Excellent. :)

Pitkin said...

Agreed. Probably the best thing DP's ever written. Scalpel-sharp stuff.

Ed of Ballsworth said...

Spot on analysis.

SteveW said...

Can it be just a coincidence that Stephan Lewandowsky is an anagram of 'What Lysenko spawned'?

If I was a slightly unhinged Australian 'academic' I'd probably see a conspiracy there...

moonrakin said...

heh... Monkey Florist Trofim Lysenko

The downward slide of academic standards and the miserable antics of egotistical "also ran" fantasists just keeps going ....