Dear @FDATobacco: Stanton Glantz’s junk science reflects upon you

by Carl V Phillips

Dear FDA Center for Tobacco Products:

I know you did not create Stanton Glantz. His intense barrage of patently absurd junk science predates your existence. You did not cause him to become the combination of utterly innumerate and/or sociopathic (it has always been difficult to be sure how much his utter disregard for real science is explained by each of these). But you own him now, thanks to the fact that you fund him and his minions, and so his nonsense is now on you. You claim to be about science. Are you?

Stanton Glantz is not the worst liar or most incompetent excuse for a scientist in public health, or even tobacco control. There are plenty of people who make even stupider claims, including some of  his own sidekicks. Since tobacco control is based mainly on junk science, there is a natural niche that is going to be filled by someone. In the most recent of the approximately 10,000 published eviscerations of Glantz’s junk science, Dick Puddlecote remarks:

He must be the first tobacco controller ever to have produced a study which comprehensively proves itself wrong.

He is right about the study results supporting the opposite of the conclusions that Glantz touted to the press (reported in your name!), though wrong about it being anywhere close to the first. To take just the easiest example, in our recent study, looking at peer review of tobacco harm reduction articles, we found that for three of the eight papers written by tobacco controllers, the study results explicitly contradicted the main conclusion the authors stated, and it was true to a lesser extent for several others. That proportion was not worse only because a couple of those eight did not actually have any real results to contradict. Oh, and one of those three was written by Glantz minions, so that one is on you too.

So it is not that Glantz’s combination of scientific incompetence and lack of hesitation to lie is particularly unusual within tobacco control. He is a lightning rod for criticism because he is such an aggressive blowhard in spewing his junk science into the world. But that too is not the real issue. There will always be people like that. No, what matters is that he is now your responsibility and represents you, and you are supposed to be responsible grownups who are interested in science.

I also realize that you are not directly responsible for the fact that you fund Glantz’s anti-science. You farmed out that decision to a poorly-chosen NIH panel. That was clearly a mistake, but is a mistake that was a couple of steps removed. But you have the option of quietly disowning him, to show that you are not as clownish as he is. But instead of doing that, you actively choose to own him. At the last workshop on e-cigarettes, you proactively chose to have a presentation by Glantz sidekick Lauren Dutra. A full half of what she claimed in that presentation has been thoroughly debunked in the scientific record. (And there is no doubt she and Glantz know this. It is particularly noteworthy about this group that they simply ignore it when they are shown to be wrong, and continue to recite the claims.)

So what is it going to be, CTP? Are you going to continue to be guilty of deceit and anti-science by association? Or are you going to step away from this blight? I realize you cannot fix the behavior of these people. It would be inappropriate for you to even try. But you can stop embracing them in a way that makes the problems with them problems with you.

18 responses to “Dear @FDATobacco: Stanton Glantz’s junk science reflects upon you

  1. Nicki Lollylulubes

    I’m sure I once read, somewhere within Chris Snowdon’s blogs, that in the US, you have a law regarding scientific quality? Surely it’s fraud to use tax payer $$$, via the FDA, to knowingly lie as Glantz does and has previously admitted to doing, as a means to an end, in his “scientific” warblings?

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yes, but Glantz himself is not a government actor per se, even if FDA is embracing him. Technically, he is not responsible for what the government does with his lies. The law does apply to what FDA disseminates. I suspect that someone could successfully take tort action against Glantz, but it would almost certainly have to be industry. It would be difficult for a consumer to claim to have been harmed, since the fact that she knows he is a liar means that she was not affected by his lies.

      • natepickering

        I’ve done a careful reading of the University of California’s bylaws on scientific malpractice by academic staff, and a complaint thereunder would probably be the best way of removing Glantz from the equation. His antics are more than enough to satisfy UC’s standard for an official censure, and probably for that matter, more than enough to warrant outright termination.

        The trouble, of course, is the possibility (if not the likelihood) that the members of the Board of Regents who would be adjudicating the case might share his political and ideological views and thus be disinclined to take disciplinary action against him, no matter how obvious and convincing the evidence of his scientific malpractice might be.

        • Carl V Phillips

          Hmm. You are probably right about the outcome and the reason for it (and throw in a desperate desire to not admit they are harboring a sociopath). But it does seem like it is worth pursuing. There are a million things to do, but if you would like to help move this forward, I know some people who would get behind it and provide content (we just need a project manager), so drop me an email.

  2. Who will blink first?

  3. Is there any law that says the FDA has to do real science in this matter? I don’t just mean not disseminate junk science (though I heard their junk nitrosamines and DEG claim was never clarified, retracted or even deleted?) I mean is there any law that requires them to use honest scientific expertise to support what they do to us?

  4. I am sure that in the US it is illegal to lie to the government. Does this mean that any submission to the FDA which is a deliberate misinterpretation of the facts can lead to prosecution?
    U.S. Code § 1001 – Statements or entries generally
    (a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
    (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
    (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
    (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
    shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
    (b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party’s counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.
    (c) With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to—
    (1) administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch; or
    (2) any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Momentarily amusing to contemplate. But I suspect to trigger that we would need something as blatant as a memo that stated awareness of the truth and an intention to mislead.

  5. Absolutely priceless Carl, priceless.

  6. IIRC in the case where the government appealed the Osteen decision which had shredded the EPA secondhand smoke science (junk), the government prevailed on the grounds that the EPA wasn’t issuing a regulation but merely expressing an opinion. Nonetheless that junk opinion was used to justify wave upon wave of subsequent legislation and courts, using Rational Basis criteria, were loathe to question the questionable rationale. IOW once junk is in the air, no matter how junky, it becomes the basis of law or of self-referential regulation.

  7. Carl Hi, How old is this Glantz ? Could he have a bit missing, in the top paddock?

    • Carl V Phillips

      It could be. But he was like 20 years younger when he started claiming that in the order of 10% of all smoking is caused by images of people smoking in movies. Yeah, really. So it is not as if he has gotten obviously stupider.

      • Just curious,why “10%” ? (why not 20% or whatever)

        • Carl V Phillips

          That was just my quick rough summary. Now that I think about it, I think he actually claimed something like half. You can look it up if you want. His innumeracy actually led him to “calculate” and report this down to six significant figures, along the lines of “123,456 cases per year”. An age cohort in the USA is about 6 million and about 20% of them take up smoking. I vaguely recall that he sometimes claimed numbers as high as 654,321, so that would be about half.

  8. Any explanation how Glantz’s study results oppose his conclusion?

    The blog you cite is wrong in assuming that any acceleration in the rate of decline precludes a flattening curve.

  9. Pingback: CASAA Podcast Update June 29, 2015 | Shutting the Gates

  10. Carl I am shocked that Glantz did not specify ;”123,456.333″ cases per year (just to allow for those who can not remember).

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