Monday 24 October 2016

About Time Too

Via The Guardian, this is awesome news.
A group of scientists and public health experts are to take legal action against the Times newspaper after it reported claims from a leading charity that they were in the pay of the tobacco industry. 
The experts, who work in fields that aim to limit deaths and health complications caused by smoking, are looking to sue the Times for defamation following a story which termed them “experts making a packet”. 
The Times has published an apology to one of the scientists cited, Clive Bates, the former head of Action on Smoking and Health. The correction stated that he had funded his own travel and accommodation costs at an industry-sponsored tobacco forum in Brussels and had not received any funding for tobacco or nicotine companies. 
But other scientists say that the same apology was not extended to them and they claim they have been falsely accused of accepting “tens of thousands of pounds from tobacco companies to carry out research into e-cigarettes”.
God speed them, I say.

If you haven't seen the appalling article in The Times, it's here behind a paywall. But these are the offending parts (click to enlarge).

Note that The Times doesn't say anything other than it is Cancer Research UK making these accusations. Because there is a hint at it later in the piece.

But the journo did say explicity in a box that they had "made a packet".

At the time ASH's daily news carried an unprecedented panicky clarification. Not by ASH but from Cancer Research UK.

ASH also failed to link to the article in question, almost as if they didn't want anyone to read it.

So where did The Times get their info from? We don't know, but you'd think CRUK would be fizzing about it enough to demand a full retraction, wouldn't you?

They did write a letter, but it was so lame as to be utterly pathetic.

Nothing in there demanded withdrawal of the accusations that The Times had hurled at the scientists and researchers who had been maligned in the original piece. Nor did it demand that the accusation that the smears had come from CRUK be removed either.

I was personally warned off tweeting about Butterworth's comments by one of the signatories too (since deleted). But if CRUK were so angry about how their comments had been portrayed, where is their lawsuit .. or even proper stiff letter of condemnation?

Instead, the idea of suing The Times was first mentioned by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos in an article on the 14th October.
I think this is time for legal action. The unsubstantiated, misleading, inappropriate and insulting accusations are totally unacceptable. This is journalism at its worst. In general, I am against legal actions because they rarely solve such problems but divert the discussion to irrelevant issues. However, in this case I think the response should be straightforward and aggressive. Moreover, I think the issue here is not only related to the protection of the integrity of those named in the article. There is a much broader issue. Anyone (including myself) can be in the same position in the future, receiving these unfair and mendacious accusations just because we have an opinion. In that context, I think we should all condemn this shameful campaign. Perhaps a letter sent to The Times, co-signed by a large number of scientists not mentioned in the articles, is a step needed to eliminate these phenomena. I will be glad to participate to this, in an effort to put an end to these disgraceful tactics.
And so it has come to pass, and all power to them for that.

I'm just baffled as to why Cancer Research UK seem reluctant to take the same path themselves considering that their integrity has been equally rubbished. They've not demanded any kind of retraction and their letter was so limp as to be useless. Because The Guardian has even reiterated it.
A group of scientists and public health experts are to take legal action against the Times newspaper after it reported claims from a leading charity that they were in the pay of the tobacco industry.
Anyone have any idea as to why CRUK were desperately spinning to say that Butterworth's comments were taken out of context (though I struggle to understand in what context they would be correct) and why they seem largely apathetic that The Times has categorically attributed the smears to CRUK but seem reluctant to make The Times apologise properly? Perhaps they will now act considering The Guardian has repeated the claims, whaddya reckon?

I'm genuinely confused.

On another note, I really do hope that this kind of thing becomes a regular occurrence. Lazy and unsubstantiated smears by tobacco control organisations have become the norm. It's time they grew the fuck up and stopped it so we can have an honest conversation about such things.

It's almost like some with a perverse ideology would prefer it never happens.

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