This works in practice, now we just need to see if it works in theory

by Carl V Phillips

The title refers to a classic joke about economists, describing a common practice in the field: Something is observed in the real world — say, the collapse of the Greek economy, insurance prices dropping under the ACA, or people lining up to buy new iPhones in spite of already owning perfectly good old iPhones — and the theoretical economists scramble to figure out if their models can show that it can really happen. In fairness, that way of thinking is not as absurd as it sounds. Developing a theory to explain an observation is good science, so long as it is being done to try to improve our models and thus better understand reality and perhaps make better predictions. Obviously, the ability or inability to work out the model does not change what has happened in reality. Continue reading

FDA proudly harasses retailers for selling lowest-risk products

by Carl V Phillips

This is basically an update of this post, in which I analyzed FDA’s banning of new flavors of Ariva/Stonewall products by declaring them “not substantially equivalent” to the previous flavors. But I thought it deserved a post of its own.

You will recall that I noted (a) that the banned products were from a family of products that might well be the lowest-risk products on the market, (b) the stated reason for the ban was that they contained more (presumably an inconsequential amount) of one chemical, and (c) if a bit more of one chemical constitutes “not substantially equivalent” then basically nothing is ever substantially equivalent.

Today FDA proudly announced that they are also harassing retailers who still have some of the banned products still on their shelves (and posting their names and addresses, no less). The manufacturer has presumably stopped shipping these products, but they are slow-moving (they never really caught on, despite having some dedicated adherents and probably being ultra-low risk) so it is not surprising that retailers still have some on the shelf.

You might think that an agency whose job it is to protect the public’s health would not spend government money (and waste perfectly good product) by hassling retailers who are innocently selling off their remaining stock of a very-low-risk product, probably completely unaware of the ban. Moreover, you might think that a regulatory agency in charge of this would know who actually manufactures the products (they list Star Scientific Inc. on the webpage, but Star go out of this business a while ago and sold the brand to a new company started by their former employees).

You would be wrong.

What is peer review really? (part 6)

by Carl V Phillips

A quick finish to the theme I was working on in the last post in the series, before moving on to a definitive example of the failure of journal peer review in public health. Recall from that post Myth 2: Health science reviewers have the skills and incentive to do the job they are assumed to be doing. I expanded a lot on Submyth 2a, about how they are often simply not qualified. Here I look at the other half of this:

Submyth 2b: Journal reviewers have an incentive to do a good job. Continue reading

What is wrong with ecig particulate claims – the simple version

by Carl V Phillips

One of the two blogs (excluding this one — I will leave that judgment to others) you should read every word of, if you are interested in understanding the sciences surrounding THR, is Clive Bates’s. So I suspect most of my reader have already seen this impressive piece he wrote about the series of nonsense claims about e-cigarettes producing dangerous exposure to tiny airborne particulates. However, I found myself thinking “that is so long and goes into so much detail that I think the point might be lost.” You know that you are being wordy if you provoke that from me! :-) Clive joked that I was going to write a haiku version of it, but I don’t think I could pull that off, so here is merely a shorter summary of the main point and an additional fatal flaw that he did not address. Continue reading

What is peer review really? (part 5)

by Carl V Phillips

Returning to this series, I previously explored Myth 1, that peer reviewers have access to more information than any other reader of the paper. On to Myth 2 (and, again, the order of this presentation is based on narrative convenience, not necessarily importance).

Myth 2: Health science reviewers have the skills and incentive to do the job they are assumed to be doing. Continue reading

Smoking trends don’t show whether ecigs are “working”. Ever. So quit it!

by Carl V Phillips

Live by the sword….

A new study by Goniewicz et al. found that smoking and e-cigarette trialing[*] are both up in Poland. They conclude based on that (yes, just on that — my sentence fully sums up their results), “Observed parallel increase in e-cigarette use and smoking prevalence does not support the idea that e-cigarettes are displacing tobacco cigarettes in this population.” It turns out that simple sentence is wrong in its details (the trend was not remotely parallel) while right in its conclusion. But that is only because the conclusion is basically always true: There is no conceivable data from population usage trends that could either support or deny the conclusion that e-cigarettes are displacing cigarettes. Continue reading

Sunday Science Lesson: association vs. causation + knowing the difference between good news and bad

by Carl V Phillips

This article in JAMA, which shows an association between smoking and a cancer-causing HPV infection (oral infection with HPV-16), is not really about THR. So I will post it under my broader and underused “Sunday Science Lesson” series. There is a minor bit of anti-THR lying in it: They bundle in the smokeless tobacco users with the (10 times as many) smokers in their analyses, pretending that those exposures are similar. As a result, they refer to what is really smoking as “tobacco use” (and even worse, “nicotine use”) in the title, press release, and body of the article. But that is not my point today. Continue reading

ANTZ try to redefine “astroturf” to mean “anything they don’t like”

by Carl V Phillips

CASAA is amused, proud, and annoyed (but mostly amused) to be the topic of a new research paper. Of course, we have been mentioned in papers a dozen times before, not including in our own work, and are most proud of being mentioned as the sponsor of Igor Burstyn’s seminal paper. But never before were we the main subject of the study. Of course, the paper was written by ANTZ and so it should come as no surprise that its main claim is a serious lie.

The paper, by Jenine K Harris (Washington University in St. Louis), Sarah Moreland-Russell, PhD (WU), Bechara Choucair (Chicago Department of Public Health[*]), Raed Mansour (CDPH), Mackenzie Staub (WU), and Kendall Simmons (WU), published at Journal of Medical Internet Research, is actually a little bit interesting. Continue reading