by Carl V. Phillips
I am working on a couple of things that will lead to some original research appearing here. In the meantime, I will contribute to some ongoing discussions.
As my readers will know, I have had a long-time hobby project of trying to figure out to what extent that anti-tobacco extremist Stanton Glantz, a professor at UCSF (I assume he teaches innumeracy), is just utterly clueless about what he claims expertise in, or whether he is intentionally lying. You can search the archives and see that I have come to lean toward “intentionally dishonest” quite often, but he still offers enough detail about some of his claims that suggest he just does not understand simple scientific points.
Readers of this blog will know there are many of each kind of liar. My casual empiricism suggests that most institutions identified as anti-THR liars intentionally lie while most single individuals who are identified simply do not know what they are talking about (in which case their intentional lie is to claim expertise that they do not have and to try to inappropriately influence others’ beliefs). On the other hand, when individual anti-THR liars are at respectable universities, the trend shifts to them apparently knowing that they are lying. Of course, the anti-smoking operation at UCSF resembles a respectable university only in the sense that it takes place indoors. Bottom line: No clues about Glantz from general principles.
To find further evidence, consider a story that has been covered in two posts by Michael Siegel, about Glantz’s interpretation of a recent research paper. The paper reported on a study of smokers who called “quit lines”, and was a basic overview of who they were, with a bit of semi-useful follow-up data. Like any such study, it is not very informative about anything, but not useless, and the authors seemed to understand this. The paper emphasized e-cigarettes, and the study asked why those who tried them did so (mostly to try to quit, of course). One of the observations in it was that those callers who had tried e-cigarettes in the past were a bit less likely to quit during a period after calling the quit line than those who had not. (Surprise! People who tried a very effective method for quitting but still kept smoking were the type of people who would not then quit a short time later.)
To be clear, the authors did not suggest any causal claims about this. Several commentators criticized the study authors for doing biased anti-e-cigarette research and drawing inappropriate conclusions. But if you read the paper, they really did not (the introduction about e-cigarettes was rather naive, but that is just a throw-away). Moreover, when they blogged about it, they actively disputed the inappropriate interpretation (subtext: they smacked Glantz down rather thoroughly), rather than employing the “public health” tactic of embellishing headline-generating claims that were not even in the paper. All in all, very respectable and honest work by the original authors.
Glantz, in what appeared to be a demonstration of his lack of knowledge of even elementary-level epidemiology, interpreted the study as evidence that e-cigarettes do not help smokers quit. He seemed genuinely unaware of what the study actually showed, even though any second-semester student should have been able to figure it out. There are some very basic epidemiologic concepts (selection bias, immortal person-time, unhealthy survivor effect) that anyone with a basic understanding of the science would see make it impossible to draw the conclusions that he did.
Basically, any smoker who “survived” the use of e-cigarettes and remained a smoker (i.e., trying e-cigarettes did not take them out of the study population) is necessarily someone for whom e-cigarettes are not an easy path to quitting. The mere fact that they were able to be studied meant that they are not among those who e-cigarettes were a good way to quit. Obviously this shows that e-cigarettes do not work for everyone (no shock there) but tells us nothing about how often they do work. Moreover, the fact that they tried e-cigarettes and also called a quit line suggests that they are looking for a personally acceptable way out of smoking and not finding it. Studying such a population can be interesting for some purposes, but obviously not for purposes of drawing conclusions about smokers in general.
The study authors understood this and presented it (though, I would argue, not as clearly as they could have). Expert readers noticed it without needing that clarification. Glantz, however, seemed genuinely oblivious, so score a point for the “innumerate” theory.
However, the plot thickens. Because this is a rare case where someone spouting a very specific anti-THR lie is actively shot down by the very people he claims to be citing, any further repetition of the lie is a clear indication of intentional dishonesty. As Siegel noted, it had been clearly pointed out to Glantz by himself and the study authors (and this was such a one-person issue that there is no possible way he did not receive multiple copies of each of these), and yet he persisted in making the exact claims, in particular in a radio interview. Score a decisive point for the “intentional liar” theory.
So the answer seems to be both. That is, Glantz seemed to have genuinely made the elementary error in his initial analysis, and seemed to believe what he was saying. And yet after he was definitively corrected, he kept saying it. So: Innumerate about the field he works in and actively dishonest in his public statements. He certainly chose his career path wisely, finding one of the few jobs for which those are considered beneficial traits.