Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The New Anti-Smoking Mantra - Part II: When You Don't Like the Evidence, Delete It

Yesterday, I reported that Stan Glantz acknowledged that when he sees evidence of the effectiveness of electronic cigarettes presented by individuals who have used these products successfully, he chooses to ignore it. Today, I have realized that the story is even worse. Not only is Stan refusing to consider such scientific evidence, but he is refusing to allow ex-smokers who have quit using electronic cigarettes to post comments on his blog reporting their success. This would be tantamount to my deleting all comments from smokers who tried to use electronic cigarettes but failed.

As a long-time blogger, I understand the issues related to whether to allow or disallow certain comments. It is certainly appropriate to censor comments that violate basic ethical norms, such as comments that are defamatory, use inappropriate language, contain personal attacks, etc. It is also appropriate to censor comments that are off-topic, repetitive, or excessively long. However, I believe it is inappropriate to censor comments simply because you don't agree with their viewpoint. And it is definitely inappropriate to censor comments from individuals because you don't like the implications of their personal experiences and want to cover up the truth.

Stan is essentially admitting that his blog is not about presenting an objective evaluation of the scientific evidence but instead, is about spouting tobacco control propaganda. That's fine - it's certainly his prerogative to use his blog as a propaganda instrument. However, he should stop pretending that he is an objective scientist and that his blog is either objective or science-based.

Look - there are many comments on my blog with which I strongly disagree. But unless the comments are defamatory, I do not delete them. I don't see the harm done by allowing people to express their opinions, no matter how strongly I might disagree with them. Some of the most important advances in science have actually come from vehement disagreements and sometimes, these advances have resulted from people questioning accepted dogma.

Even more importantly, I will not delete any comments by individuals sharing their personal experiences. In fact, such comments are very helpful because they provide examples of people's actual experiences on the issues being discussed. I certainly wouldn't delete personal experiences because I don't like the implications.

I won't repeat here my discussion of why personal testimonials about their experiences with electronic cigarettes do in fact constitute important scientific evidence about the effectiveness of these products. I will, however, refer readers to an excellent commentary by Dr. Carl Phillips, who points out that in some ways, personal testimonials provide a type of evidence that is not available from clinical trials.

As Dr. Phillips wrote: "Glantz’s claim that these posts are not informative brings us to his profound lack of understanding of the science he claims expertise in. ... Those testimonials are the real scientific evidence, not the vague statistics that Glantz proposes collecting.  Any real scientist would recognize this.  It turns out that the statistics he wants to collect offer us little or no information about what we want to know — what switchers would have done without e-cigarettes.  It is that kind of information that is not scientifically useful.  The testimonials, on the other hand, are a rich source of scientific information about smokers who did not quit (they would probably say “could not quit”) until they found e-cigarettes.  These testimonials represent useful scientific experiments."

The rest of the story is that unfortunately, the modern tobacco control movement is losing its scientific objectivity. There is a pre-determined agenda, based on firmly entrenched ideology - which cannot be challenged, and evidence that goes against that agenda must be either ignored or buried, or both.

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