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.