2014 might be the year that determines whether tobacco harm reduction (THR) will sweep the world (at least the wealthy parts of it) by 2025, or whether its delay, and the resulting suffering and death, will drag out for another decade after that. That made 2013 an interesting year for those of us who monitor the extremists who are actively working in support of the suffering.
After we decided we should do a year-end countdown for 2013, it quickly became apparent that this does not lend itself to just listing particular individuals. The lying is really not about particular personalities, though we do mention a few who stand out (not in a good way). Thus, the list is a hybrid of people, types of liars, and types of lies, with the named entities mostly serving as symbolic representations. It also became apparent that it was not all that useful to just base this on some rough counting of the lies, how blatant they were, and how loud they were shouted. Rather, this is a gut-level hybrid that considers that, but also how much the lies and the liar matter and other considerations. So you will see that the entity whose actions matter the most on this list is at #3, while the most blatant and aggressive liar is #8. Also, rather than forcing the count to match the number of fingers humans happened to evolve, we identified those worth mentioning and went with that count. Thus, we start with #8: Stanton Glantz (from the archives) and the University of California, San Francisco, whose once good reputation among real scientists has been heavily damaged by Glantz and his anti-tobacco extremist colleagues.
Now some might be surprised to see Glantz so low on the list because, as noted, he does earn the special award for Most Aggressive Liar. For the course of a decade of all the anti-smokeless-tobacco lies, he was relatively silent about THR, despite being one of the most toxic anti-smoker activists, in terms of both his lies and general innumeracy and cluelessness about science. But this year he turned his superpowers — an apparent inability to distinguish lies from truth (or the sociopathology to not care about the distinction) and ability to trick people into thinking he understands science at better than a middle-school level — to anti-e-cigarette activism. He ranks low, however, because he is just an accident of history, the person who happened to stumble into the crazy jester niche that someone always fills.
For any contentious and important topic, there is room for someone to gain fame and fortune by being the extremist liar, and so someone always fills that niche. For most lie-based activist positions, the Loudest Liar niche tends to be filled by some entertainer or gadfly of letters, or an organization that can attract a few wealthy backers. But when there is government grant money backing the lies, it is often an unscrupulous mediocre professor who fills the niche.
Still, Glantz is worth mentioning as more than a generic type because of a few particular propensities. Most notably he excels at relentlessly repeating lies about what research shows, even after being explicitly publicly corrected by the researchers (and anyone else with basic literacy skills who weighs in), who point out that he is completely misrepresenting their results. Those are some serious crazy-liar chops. Few people, even among the other major anti-THR liars, will so baldly misrepresent what the science shows (except when it is the junk science from their tobacco control industry fellows, and thus the authors misrepresent it in the first place). Fewer still are so unconcerned with their reputation that they will keep repeating the lies after being pointedly reprimanded for them (or perhaps they actually have a sense of decency). For that, Glantz rises above (which is to say, sinks below) just being a font of generic lies.
He further secures a position on the list, in spite of having descended to jester status — even within the tobacco control community — because he and UCSF won one of FDA’s huge Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) grants. Frankly, this award says more about the process used to decide these awards. (Aside: it is not just those of us who prefer real science over tobacco control who feel that process was an embarrassing failure. In addition to turning down some excellent applications from politically neutral centers and industry-academic cooperations, they turned down quality applications from established tobacco controllers who are good scientists — and were also livid about this — in favor of the UCSF hacks who apparently do not even know 101-level concepts like the difference between correlation and causation.) Unfortunately, that center grant is going to lend some credibility to the hacks among the ignorant masses even though, among the knowledgeable, it instead serves to damage the credibility of the granting process.
The one bright spot about funding in this story is that UCSF sought grassroots crowdsourced donations to support one of their anti-e-cigarette “research” efforts but were offered only a pittance from a few donors in spite of offering incentives. (If you click that link, notice that they already declared what conclusion they would reach in the request for funding, much as they did with the TCORS application — they do not do research, they write political propaganda and do not even try to hide that plan.) Contrast this with CASAA’s research fundraising, in which we secured that sum for the Igor Burstyn research in four days. There simply is no grassroots support for the likes of Glantz and UCSF, and tobacco control in general. There might be millions of people who will express pro-TC and anti-THR opinions in opinion surveys, but their feelings are only a millimeter deep — they would not spend a dollar or a minute of their time supporting that cause. As some of the rest of this countdown will further illustrate, anti-THR exists only because extremists have seized control of some government and other institutions, but that control is eroding as their lies become more widely understood.