Friday, 6 November 2015

Good Work Agent Gornall

Clive Bates has written a magnificent piece excoriating the BMJ for an astonishingly puerile article by gutter journalist extraordinnaire, Jonathan Gornall.

Gornall is such an incredibly inept tool that his hilarious conspiracy theory wibblings even managed to lose funding for the BMJ once, so you'd think they'd steer clear of him wouldn't you? Well, not the modern day integrity-free BMJ, no, because the BMJ is no longer anything more trustworthy and authoritative than the Sunday Sport, as Bates explains.
For making this simple, reasonable and proportionate statement [about e-cigs], PHE’s work has been the subject of  haranguing attacks by The Lancet,  The Guardian and a pair of public health activists writing in the BMJ. Now the BMJ has followed up with an extraordinary frenzied attack on PHE aggravated by a highly misleading “info-graphic”. I have been reflecting on this for some time and would like to draw out ten themes.
Now, I'm all for frenzied attacks on PHE - they being the ones who believe in a sugar tax and disgusting psychiatric hospital outdoor smoking bans, while sponging half a billion of our taxes per annum to do so - but this Gornall thing is just vague, sixth form level, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, evidence-avoiding lefty dribble ... erm, in the BMJ! Or, as Bates puts it.
To provide innuendo, the barrel-scraping in this piece plumbs astonishing depths as the BMJ finds conspiracies everywhere – attending conferences, writing letters, agreeing with like-minded people, and, worst of all, having any sort of business – all marks of conspiracy in eyes of this new all-in-one witch-finder, inquisitor and executioner.
I highly recommend you read Bates's blog in its entirety here, because - happily for us here - Gornall has kindly applied dubious long-standing tobacco control industry methods to such an inappropriate subject that it effectively ridicules them.

It's almost too easy for Bates to take a carving knife to the whole thing. Here are some highlights.
Graphics are potent tools for smearing and innuendo. Why?  Because the meaning of a connecting line on a graphic is highly ambiguous.  Does it mean “A is under the pay and influence of B” or “A and B know each other and have some common views”?  If you are in the smearing business, that ambiguity is useful.
As taught to every tobacco controller who has ever taken taxpayer subsidy to attend one of the never-ending echo chamber conferences they travel to around the world
Given the Lancet and BMJ are the giants of UK medical publishing,  might we have expected them to take a scientific perspective and look into whether the 95% claim is actually realistic? They didn’t bother with this at all. 
In fact, there has been an interesting debate about whether this figure is right or not and if it has been expressed with the proper nuances, but not in the BMJ or Lancet.
No, because on any matter related to smoking they have become lazy. Their anti-science ban on tobacco-funded research, however incontrovertible it may be, and the systematic eradication of any dissenting voice via the routinely mis-applied FCTC Article 5.3 means that they never have to be rigorous. They just say any old crap and there is no-one to oppose it.

In the field of tobacco science, these journals are now merely gutter junk and can't be trusted at all. By publishing Gormall's article, they have simply confirmed this.
But somehow I don’t suppose PHE’s detractors were worrying that they’d overstated the the risks. Did the BMJ or Lancet provide any insight or reflection on these figures or on the proper formulation of a message useful to the public? No and no.
Nope, because click-bait gutter journos don't bother with that kind of difficult stuff. Neither, it seems, does the BMJ anymore. Innuendo, half-truths and lies are their core content now.

Oh believe me there's more!
The indignant reaction to the use of a quantified expert estimate of risk was ridiculous.  It’s hardly unusual in public health to use numbers based on expert judgement to give the public some ‘anchors’ to guide behaviour and inform choice.  This is exactly what quantified guidelines for alcohol, salt, sugar and BMI are supposed to do.  I haven’t seen any complaints from the BMJ and Lancet about these – but there is far less evidence and principle to support these numbers than PHE’s e-cigarette relative risk guideline. Just a theory, but maybe the public health establishment is more at ease with restricting people with limits than empowering them with informed choice.
Ain't that the truth? When was the last time you heard a 'public health' finger-wagger come over as anything less than haughty, snobby, superior and condescending of the public's choices? But then I've always maintained it's never been about health. Perhaps I'm right, you never know.
A tiresome journalistic technique was used to make the case against PHE. The BMJ just went around finding enemies of PHE and allowed them to spout their ill-informed views onto the pages of the journal without the slightest challenge or balancing comment. It is a one-sided ‘hatchet job’ utterly devoid of objectivity, and the BMJ poorly serves its readers to inflict this on them.
It's what 'public health' has done for quite a long time. So much so that it is now de rigeur.

And on vaping bans ...
The worst example of this is the large chunk of the piece that rests on the views of one anonymous director of public health, which I will now examine.
A director of public health in north west England, who spoke to The BMJ on condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues in the region have found PHE’s stance on e-cigarettes “problematic on a number of levels,” not least of which was the lack of consultation with public health professionals on the ground.
Why anonymous? Who is this public servant and why is he excused personal accountability in a scientific journal? PHE commissioned an evidence review not a talking shop, and in any case why would “public health professionals on the ground” know anything? They’ve been mostly hostile to e-cigarettes, and with notable exceptions, they have failed to engage with smokers and vapers.
The PHE guidance also threatened to undermine the work by public health officials who “have spent the past 18 months persuading public venues, council buildings, and others to agree to ban e-cigarette use in enclosed public spaces,” he said.
Oh, I loved that one… he is peeved that scientific evidence has intruded on his prohibitionist and illiberal plans. No challenging rejoinder was put to him by the BMJ: maybe bans on vaping in public places are not supported by the evidence – the point not put to him by the BMJ.
Vaping bans are not supported by evidence, but then smoking bans have only ever been supported by junk science and repeated lies. It's just that no-one has questioned it before, so we should be extremely grateful to Gornall for bringing this tactic into the open ... albeit it not being his intention to do so.

And finally, gloriously ...
An especially bumptious (here) Australian academic has coined the term scream test (“the louder tobacco companies scream, the more impact we know a measure will have“) to help him decide which tobacco policies must work because screams from the tobacco industry. I guess that’s easier than actually evaluating policies. 
I think a similar scream test works for the anti-harm-reduction activists and it was passed in spectacular fashion by the claim that e-cigarettes are 95% less risky than smoking – they hated it, and moved to red-alert status. Why? I can only speculate, but I think they believe in their own authority: that everyone should do as they are told, and quit smoking completely or face a miserable life and lingering death – quit or die, submit or succumb. E-cigarettes offer a third alternative that empowers the user, and they really don’t like that.  So the response has been to throw up a blizzard of distracting hype and spin to conceal the awkward truth that technology might be starting to deal with smoking without their involvement and without relying on their traditional tool kit of punitive and controlling measures.

I do believe Jonathan Gornall has done us all a huge favour here, so much so that he could almost be a libertarian plant! By publishing something so incompetent, laughable and close to parody, he has exposed longstanding mendacious tactics of 'public health' professionals; shown up the BMJ to be an untrustworthy peddlar of integrity-free conspiracy theories and baseless smears; highlighted huge conflicts of interest in those the BMJ appear to trust; and turned the childish and ignoramus-convincing "scream test" claim against the very people who dreamed it up.

Do go read Bates's article in full, I think you'll enjoy it.

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