Thursday, June 26, 2014

Glantz/Chapman: Twisting the Facts to Support Pre-Determined Conclusions

Yesterday, I reported that Drs. Stan Glantz and Simon Chapman issued defamatory attacks against Lorillard for running an inappropriate blu e-cigarette commercial (the robot sex ad). The truth is that Lorillard had nothing to do with the ad, which was produced in 2010, well before Lorillard acquired blu.

The Rest of the Story

Today, I reflect on what this story demonstrates about the scientific bias that is apparent in the anti-smoking movement, particularly among researchers like Dr. Glantz, who has repeatedly misinterpreted scientific studies in order to skewer electronic cigarettes.

What the story demonstrates is that Dr. Glantz has a pre-determined set of conclusions about electronic cigarettes and the tobacco companies' role in inappropriately marketing these products to addict a new generation of kids. When presented with information, he jumps to an immediate interpretation and conclusion that supports his pre-determined schema. Instead of exercising critical judgment and objective evaluation of the evidence, he immediately twists the facts to support his pre-existing position. Dr. Glantz is just one example of a phenomenon that characterizes a number of researchers and tobacco control groups that are vehement opponents of electronic cigarettes for ideological, rather than valid scientific reasons.

In psychology, this phenomenon is known as confirmation bias. A 2010 Boston Globe article describes this phenomenon and explains how when people are affected by this bias, they twist new facts that run counter to their position in order to fit with their pre-determined conclusions, rather than change their positions in line with the new information. 

In the article, Joe Keohane writes:

"Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger." ...

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

For this reason, I am discouraged about the possibility that people like Dr. Glantz and Dr. Chapman will change their minds about the potential utility of e-cigarettes if further evidence accumulates to demonstrate the benefits of these products. The science is simply not going to matter to them. Hopefully, the science will matter to the FDA.

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