Monday 20 February 2017

How Tobacco Control 'Science' Works #94

Earlier this month, I briefly mentioned merchant of doubt Simple Simon's master class in cherry-picking 'evidence' in The Conversation to claim that truths about e-cigs are actually myths.

The comments under the line have since been quite a story in themselves, with Greek scientist Konstantinos Farsalinos revealing that he is embarking on the task of replicating some of the studies which led to garish scare stories in the media.

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Established scientific convention dictates that research criteria should be made available to other scientists so they can check the results by exactly replicating the methodology to confirm its authenticity. It would appear that Farsalinos isn't too impressed with what he is finding while doing just that.

He is also having a lot of trouble with the authors of a recent study into flavourings in e-cigs. In short, they don't seem willing to disclose which products they tested, as Farsalinos mentions in the comments at The Conversation.
The authors published  a study showing 10,000-fold higher aldehyde levels in flavored vs unflavored liquids. It is not just the difference that matters; the levels reported are HUGE. Up to 7000 ug/g formaldehyde, up to 3500 ug/g acetaldehyde. If this is verified, i will be THE FIRST to openly and publicly recommend against the use of flavored e-cigarettes. When i say verified, i mean finding similar (not necessarily identical) aldehyde levels. Even 40% or 50% less would still be extremely high, and i would consider that a verification of their findings. 
So, why is the author repeatedly denying to reveal which liquids they tested? Publicly. The main author says that 5 samples are mentioned, but those were cigalikes and only 1 had problems. The crucial issue is to replicate Brand I in their study. Besides the public comments, i have personally sent 2 very polite emails (dates: 11 November 2016 and 25 November 2016) to the first author requesting information about the samples tested. I NEVER received any response, and it is the first time this is happening to me.
In the comments to the research itself, Professor Peter Hajek has also asked why "repeated requests" about the exact brands and flavours being tested are being ignored. The reply from lead author, Andrey Khlystov, either shows a laughable lack of knowledge about the subject matter, or an alarming unwillingness to allow his research to be replicated.
Contrary to what you suggest, there is little value in testing exactly the same liquids. Testing specific liquids or flavors was not the point of our study.
It may not have been, but to replicate the study it is essential that the liquids tested must be revealed. All that Khlystov will say is that they can be bought at this website. There are thousands of different liquid flavourings, all at varying levels of nicotine strength and differing blends of VG, PG, with differing viscosity and behaviour. With the generally piss poor understanding of how e-cigs work amongst tobacco control researchers, it's more that possible that these guys could have been pumping gloopy liquid through a low capacity power source and not even be aware of their fuck up (it wouldn't be the first time). To say, then, there is little value in testing exactly the same product is quite bizarre

You have to wonder why the secrecy. If he's confident in his results, why wouldn't he want the experiment to be replicated?

Not releasing the names of the liquids tested to another researcher is scientifically reprehensible; not releasing the names of liquids - which the study's own conclusions consider dangerous - is morally corrupt and incredibly irresponsible.

Imagine, for example, that one particular flavour is found to be extremely dangerous, someone dedicated to protecting 'public health' should be keen that the warning was spread widely, yet the authors of this study don't seem concerned with that, instead wishing the message to be directed at all flavours.

Do you reckon there might be an agenda at play here? It's almost as if they don't really care much about health at all, huh? It's certainly one to watch with interest. 

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