|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.