Science Lesson: on “anecdotes”

by Carl V Phillips

Following a twitter conversation between some vapers and some others who mistakenly think they understand science, I decided to write a quick lesson for those who might want more than a bumper-sticker about this. The issue at hand is whether you can learn anything about the world from individual testimonials about people’s experiences or other one-off “anecdotes”. The answer is obviously yes. It is safe to say that more than 99% of what each of us knows comes from such evidence. So why do so many people not understand this obvious fact, and habitually denigrate such evidence as “anecdotes”? It seems to be because they are stuck in a grade-school understanding of science.

I have written entire papers that are substantially about this point, but here is my quick explanation for how to better think about this. (Oh, and as an aside,  anyone who thinks that this exposition is more correct due to the fact that I have also published versions in journals knows even less about understanding scientific evidence, but that is another story that readers will know I cover elsewhere.) Continue reading

FDA thinks antifreeze is ok — for kids’ medicine (and other accidentally useful observations in the NYTimes)

by Carl V Phillips

The New York Times is a reliable mouthpiece for various powerful political factions but, frustratingly, is also a great source of information. As a result, we are forced to read it much the way that Soviet citizens learned to read Pravda — the information is there, but you have to learn how to read between the lines. A clever reader (h/t Gil Ross) spotted the NYT pointing out that FDA was blatantly hypocritical when they hyped the claim that “e-cigarettes contained antifreeze” during their attempt to ban them in 2009 (and — even worse — keep reporting that lie).

Background: In 2009, in an attempt to smear the e-cigarette companies that were suing them for illegally seizing products, FDA conducted studies of some of their liquids. They discovered a trivial contamination with diethylene glycol (DEG), in one unit, at a level that Burstyn has pointed out posed no concern. They tried to fool the public into believing this was a substantial hazard. Continue reading

Tobacco abstinence is not a safe alternative to harm reduction

by Carl V Phillips and Elaine Keller

In honor of the birthday of one of us (EK), we are using the great title that the other of us wishes he had thought to use for his 2009 paper. In acknowledgement of her birthday, Elaine posted this yesterday on the Facebook CASAA members group:

Today is my birthday. My birthday wish is that e-cigarettes had been invented in 1983 instead of 2003. I was reluctant to share with the world that I was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer. I was afraid that some tobacco control liars might use that information to falsely accuse e-cigarettes of causing cancer. But an important fact is that for ex-smokers, the excess risk for lung cancer doesn’t go away the day you quit. In fact, it hangs around for a good TWENTY YEARS after you quit smoking.

So if I had been able to quit smoking in 1989 instead of 2009, perhaps I would not have needed to have the lower left lobe of my lung removed in July, and to go through chemotherapy. I’m happy to share with you all that my follow-up CT scan on December 4, showed no evidence of cancer. So I am officially in remission. To those who want smokers to wait around for 10 or 20 years for scientific proof that e-cigarettes are 100% safe, I say this, smokers don’t have that luxury.

Dr. Carl Phillips, CASAA’s Chief Scientific Officer, brilliantly analyzed the difference between being able to quit smoking immediately via switching to a reduced risk alternative source of nicotine (Tobacco Harm Reduction – THR) and postponing quitting until ready to “quit completely” (e.g., not needing to earn a paycheck after reaching the age of retirement) in “Debunking the claim that abstinence is usually healthier for smokers than switching to a low-risk alternative, and other observations about anti-tobacco-harm-reduction arguments.”http://www.harmreductionjournal.com/content/6/1/29

Most lung cancers are not diagnosed until Stage 4, when survival rates are grim. I thank God, and credit e-cigarettes, for the fact that mine was caught at Stage 1.

Continue reading

Over 10,000 more Americans get to ring in 2015 thanks to e-cigarettes

by Carl V Phillips

This blog closed last year with a countdown of the worst liars of the year. This year, I decided to go for a more positive note.

We know that every time a smoker switches to e-cigarettes, there is a good chance she is saving herself from an eventual smoking-caused premature death. But this also means that, for someone who has quit smoking thanks to e-cigarettes, there is a chance she has already avoided premature death. Several months ago, a journalist posed this interesting questions to me: How many lives have already been saved thanks to e-cigarettes (h/t Maxim Lott). It is a very tough question, but I finally figured out how to estimate it based on the methodology I used in my 2009 paper, “Debunking the claim that abstinence is usually healthier for smokers than switching to a low-risk alternative, and other observations about anti-tobacco-harm-reduction arguments.” I have completed a working paper that calculates the estimate, which appears at EP-ology. Continue reading

What is peer review really? (part 7 – an amusing aside)

by Carl V Phillips

A couple of weeks ago, a funny story came out about a peer-reviewed journal accepting a “paper” which consists of nothing but the message (in the title, repeated in the text for pages, and in two figures), “Get me off your fucking mailing list”, laid out in the format of a research paper. The authors had created this to reply to the plethora of spam that scholars get, inviting them to submit papers, attend conferences, etc., and had been using it for a few years. So imagine their surprise when, after sending it in response to journal spam, they got the reply that it had been accepted for publication after it was favorably “peer-reviewed”. They merely needed to pay the $150 publication fee. (The rest of us were shocked that they apparently decided to not pay the fee and get the paper published. I mean, come on, how could you resist?) Continue reading

Burstyn comments at FDA workshop on ecig science

by Igor Burstyn

[Editor’s Note: As I mentioned previously, FDA refused CASAA’s application to have Igor appear on the agenda of the FDA workshop on e-cigarette chemistry and related science. After seeing who they did put on stage, it became doubly clear that they were intentionally avoiding Igor because he had the expertise and credibility to point out fundamental flaws in a solid majority of what was presented. Fortunately Greg Conley had three minutes on the agenda and gave it to Igor, so that he could present the following talk. It was not a lot of time, but it was enough for Igor to point out how absurd is most of what passes for science in this realm. His slides are here. I have inserted the slide advance marks in the text. –CVP]

[Slide 1] Good morning, folks. First, a small correction. Actually, my affiliations are on the slide now, not from the previous introduction.

[Slide 2] So what I’d like to talk to you about today very briefly is that there’s really not that much new under the Sun about e-cigarettes. I don’t come from the tobacco control world. I come from a very different area of academia and research. And I was surprised that so many things about electronic cigarettes were surprising to people. So that’s my story.

So we’re really not all that ignorant about toxicology of what comes out of electronic cigarettes. And I talk about it as somebody who’s trained in industrial hygiene, environmental health, who was taught to anticipate what would happen if my workplace had a source of environmental emission introduced to it that was very much like electronic cigarettes, and it was there, and it was exposing me. And I was trained through my undergraduate and my graduate training to recognize and deal with those situations and be able to make rational decisions about mitigating risks for myself, and my co-workers and my colleagues.

We have rich experimental experience from other areas of environmental and workplace emission controls and hazard assessments that are incredibly helpful and can be easily applied, and are portable to the world of electronic cigarettes and tobacco products. And there’s really no reason to assume this precautionary posture that really amounts to willful ignorance. We really know a lot more than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. And my claim to credibility, such as it is, is summarized in this paper, and if you’re really interested in what I have to say on this topic, it’s all published out there. You’re most welcome to contact me. I’m easily found.

[Slide 3] But this is my main point, which was made yesterday as well: The dose makes the poison. We have known that for a very, very long time, and it’s really not helpful for us to think otherwise because nothing really has changed in the truth of that statement since Paracelsus put it forward. And this is part of the story. [Slide 4] If we apply the standards that are admissible in workplaces to emissions from electronic cigarettes and look at about nine thousand chemical measurements that were available to me back last summer, we can see that across chemicals, we see individual exposures that are way below a threshold where we’d actually begin to worry about them. There’s really no reason to be concerned here. Most of them are in trace quantities. They’re present, but they’re not going to hurt you.

[Slide 5] And if you look at similar calculations based on emissions from vapers, you can reach the same conclusion. You can sit or stand near a vaper and experience emissions they generate, and you should not be worried or afraid for your life or health.

[Slide 6] So we do know a good deal about electronic cigarettes. If the word “cigarettes” was not in that title, we wouldn’t really be that worried about them because it’s just a name. And it’s not really appropriate to deal with these things as if we learned nothing since the 16th century. Scientists don’t try to avoid vials of chemicals; likewise, public should understand and treat chemicals with respect, but we should not be afraid of them.

Thank you very much for your attention.

[Slide 7 contains further observations that could not be fit in the limited time.]

 

CDC lies about ecigs and children again (wait, have I used that title before?)

by Carl V Phillips

The CDC issued a press release about children and e-cigarettes again today (which is basically just another way of repeating the title of this post). Their headline claim itself is actually true (assuming they know how to count — not a foregone conclusion): More than 16 million children live in states where they can buy e-cigarettes legally. Of course, they don’t happen to mention why this is the case, and they go on to offer other lies. Continue reading

New York Times Editorial Board lies about smokeless tobacco labeling

by Carl V Phillips

The New York Times Editorial Board has come out against allowing the “warning” label changes that Swedish Match requested in their MRTP application. They probably did not set out to actively mislead their readers like, say, ANTZ “researchers” do. But when they summoned up all their expertise and experience as, um, reporters on politics and current events, somehow they got this bit of scientific analysis wrong. Shocking. Their lies appear to be the “claim to be expert on something you do not actually understand” type, though I suppose we cannot rule out that they were intentionally trying to mislead. This is combined with them clearly not having a clue about who to believe in this arena. (Hint: The industry tends to be almost impeccably honest and maximally knowledgeable when it comes to the science. Regulators fail on both those counts. And the vast majority of academic “researchers” in this area do not even try to be either honest or knowledgeable.) Continue reading