Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Independent's 'exclusive'

The Independent recklessly puts a cigarette pack with full colours
 and no warning on its cover. Won't somebody think of the children? etc.

I wasn't planning on writing anything about Philip Morris's Freedom of Information request, as reported in the Independent today. Only the shock of finding out it was on the front page has made me think that anybody might be interested. The 'exclusive' story (of PM seeking the raw data of a survey published in a Cancer Research briefing which lobbied for plain packaging in 2008) has been around for weeks and was reported by the Herald back in July so I don't know what all the fuss is about now.

The Independent's angle is that the FOI request was "vexatious", but this question was answered by the Scottish Information Commissioner on July 22nd...

Following an investigation, the Commissioner found that the information request was not vexatious. He also found that the University had unreasonably sought clarification from PMI before responding to its request and that, as a consequence, had failed to respond to the request within the time limit set down by FOISA.

In addition, he found that the University did not fulfil its duty under section 15 of FOISA in relation to providing advice and assistance to PMI.

This is really quite straightforward. PM requested the data, the University of Sterling refused to hand it over, it went to arbitration, PM won and Linda Bauld et al. have nowhere left to turn. And so, like many desperate and deluded people, they have turned to the Independent. I have little to add to what Heather Brooke says in The Guardian. We have Freedom of Information laws in this country to give us access to the research that we pay for and special interest groups cannot pick and choose who gets to use them.

When a scientist—or, in Bauld's case, professor of socio-management (whatever the hell that means)—refuses to allow access to their data in defiance of the law, we are entitled to think that they might have something to hide. It's not a "war on science". Scientists used to pride themselves on having their work tested by their critics. A few good ones still do. And so, after being profoundly uninterested in this story, I am rather intrigued at what the data show and why these researchers are so keen to keep it secret.

My only complaint is that so much attention has been given to an inconsequential study that featured in a long-forgotten Cancer Research UK report in 2008. There are any number of genuinely important suspect studies published by the Centre for Tobacco Control Research (for it is they) which Philip Morris could have put under the spotlight. We could, and should, have been talking about them today.

Dick Puddlecote (from whom I snatched the photo above) and the aforementioned Heather Brooke have more on this.


Anonymous said...

They want it for some reason and the nazis know why! I assume PM already knows the answer and just needs it to perform some surgery on tobacco controls lies!

Lets hope for a change big tobacco gets the goods sorta like the internal tobacco control emails!

Frank said...

One at a time. If this one proves 'contentious' then, no doubt, others will be requested. Destroy in detail.

Smart move from PMI and about bloody time.

BrianB said...

The study may be "inconsequential" in terms of the paucity of heavyweight numerical analysis undertaken, but surely no 'study' carried out by ant-tobacco can now be decribed in such terms.

I would personally have referred the Pell study as "inconsequential" in terms of the credibility of its data analysis and insignificance of its revelations, but look how that one grew wings and flew round the world.

Even worse was Glantz's 'Helena' variant of the same thing, which spawned so many bastard offspring (Pell's included) that it moved from a logical classification of 'laughably inconsequential' to something more like 'narrative changing'.

Kudos to PMI for taking this line, especially if it helps them debunk any findings of this study that could potentially be used against their commercial interests (eg, as in this case, in support of banning product displays).

I too hope that they will be vocal in debunking other, bigger, studies in the future, but let's be honest here; who really knows what they have been trying to do in the past? How will we ever know, when they are muzzled by a criminally-compliant media?

And, of course, if it hadn't been for the utter stupidity of Stirling University (who seem to have learned nothing from their colleagues at UEA-CRU), would we even know that PMI had submitted an FoI request?

Good to see the anti-tobacco loonies ('newspaper' included) once again helping 'Big Tobacco' with it's PR!

BrianB said...

That would be 'anti-tobacco' in my previous post, not 'ant-tobacco'.

'Ant-tobacco' would presumably involve insects, grubbing around in sh1t and filth, and using tobacco to help to eke out a livi...


Perhaps it's as you were, then!

Eddie said...

Just wait for a comment or question to be asked in the Scottish Parliament when it resumes next week.

This has probably been a set up by the Anti-Smoking lobby.