Sunday 11 December 2016

Dick's Law: A Proposal

Let me show you a few tweets from recent days, because y'see, I think we have a problem within 'public health' debate that needs to be solved.

Here is John Ashton of the Faculty of Public Health (you remember him, surely?) on Friday ...

This is with regard to last week's appalling US Surgeon General report on e-cigarettes which had more holes in its 'evidence' than a Swiss cheese, most notably its complete absence of a citation for April's Royal College of Physicians report.

You would think, wouldn't you, that a UK 'public health' professional would be more predisposed to trust the RCP than a political appointee from across the Atlantic, but then Ashton hates vaping and vapers with a passion so didn't do that. Instead, he cast a tweet into cyberspace deliberately trying to smear any positive view of vaping as having come from the tobacco industry or those who support it.

It was the same approach taken by Luke Clancy of ASH Ireland yesterday.

Just like Ashton, Clancy summarily dismisses not only the RCP report, but also the conclusions of the PHE report on e-cigarettes of August 2015. Just a load of rubbish, according to Clancy. Again, this is intended to dismiss serious research to avoid debate because - as far as we know - Clancy has never conducted his own research or evidence review of e-cigs, so is relying on the opinion of others.

The opinion of others he is alluding to is, of course, that of Simon Capewell and Martin McKee who published criticism in the Lancet and BMJ following the PHE report, and it was based on nothing more than desperate smears (as we found out by FOI).

As Clive Bates commented last year on this subject.
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
But here’s the thing: most of the legitimate concern is that this estimate overstates the residual risk of 5% and that a range should have been given, rather than a point estimate.  This is because no likely pathway for serious disease has so far been established and it is quite possible that e-cigarettes will be 99% or 100% less risky than smoking.  
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.
This isn't a new tactic, far from it. The tobacco control industry has pumped out an enormous catalogue of junk science for decades and, as a result, has actively sought to silence any meaningful debate on all of it. It doesn't matter how rigorous the science which disagrees with their chosen view may be, it will always routinely be dismissed by way of distraction and playing the man not the ball. It has rightly been compared to McCarthyism by many different commentators.

So successful has this mendacious tactic been that the BMJ now refuses any research - however scientifically perfect - merely on the basis that it is funded by the tobacco industry (but not if it is funded by other industries such as pharma, natch).

Here's another recent example, this time from a colleague of the US Surgeon general, piqued that former head of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control holds the new e-cigs report in contempt.

As always, criticism is not followed by debate, but instead instantly leaps to a veiled smear that the person opposing the 'public health' professional's pre-conceived position must surely have been influenced by industry.

None of those above actually believe it; it's just a way of ensuring the debate doesn't get past square one and, therefore, out of their control.

It's not just in tobacco control that this goes on. In fact, the same dissent-silencing tactic has been enthusiastically taken up by everyone who has a policy they like but for which the evidence is subject to debate. In almost all cases the proponents of these policies will point to how popular they are while dismissing the idea that if the public were truly in favour, their services would not be required because people would be doing what 'public health' wants anyway. When the public do object to these vested interest obsessives, however, they too will be accused of being 'astroturf' or somehow being in the pay of industry; their voice will be ignored and all sound reasoning or evidence-based arguments discarded.

So much has this absurd fallacious form of discourse infected intelligent debate these days that it is vomited out even when it's quite laughable to do so. See this hilarious exchange from Thursday.

There you have Adam Cleave, who openly declares he works for Imperial Tobacco, being told repeatedly that he is quite obviously a front for the sugar industry. You couldn't make this stuff up! It is said without thought; without even cursory fact-checking; and is designed solely to shut someone up who holds a differing opinion.

There is no sharing of ideas or back and forth of evidence with people who immediately spring to the ad hom as a means of defence, they quite simply don't want to have to go to the bother of justifying their point of view. It is lazy, unprincipled, and a form of lying.

So I have a proposal. Just as Godwin's Law dictates that comparisons with Hitler are inappropriate and lazy debate-killers, so should anyone screaming about mythical and shadowy industry interference be equally ridiculed. I call this proposal Dick's Law and it goes like this.
"If, when faced with someone who opposes your point of view and does so by providing personal testimony, references or evidence, you reply without refuting their stance with meaningful justification, but instead accuse them of being in the pay of industry or part of a front group without any proof, you are actively attempting to strangle debate and silence discussion. Furthermore, even if the opponent is in pay of industry or part of a front group, you must disprove their opinions by way of evidence and references of your own. If you cannot do so, you have illustrated that your opinion is not supportable by facts and is therefore too weak for the debate that you have chosen to avoid. As such, at the exact moment you rely solely on an ad hominem attack on their real or imagined industry affiliation, you immediately lose the debate."
I think that works well, whaddya reckon? 

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