Author Archives: Carl V Phillips

Sunday Science Lesson: Bad categories, bad science

by Carl V Phillips

[Oops, I forget to click “publish” on Sunday. So here it is on Monday. I am keeping the title as is though. :-)] I was thinking about this topic because I just finished writing a paper in which it comes up, and also I stumbled across a paper from a couple of years ago, by my old friend Miguel Hernán, that goes into depth about some aspects of it (open access link; a wonderful and generally understandable, though slightly technical, presentation). The issue is how far you can go in agglomerating heterogeneous entities (people, behavior, conditions, etc.) into a single category in an analysis and still have meaningful results. Continue reading

Anti-THR, anti-vaxx, disease denial, and the political science of institutional “knowing” of falsehoods

by Carl V Phillips

There are quite a few takes out there comparing anti-THR activists to antivaxxers. These make for stinging attacks, like comparing someone’s position to that of the Nazis. Most of the loudest anti-THR voices despise antivaxxers, so it is fun to make the comparison. However, despite being a cute barb, comparing anti-THR to anti-vaxx is a terrible analogy. Continue reading

“Reason(s) you vape” questions on surveys are generally stupid

by Carl V Phillips

Another single-thought impulse post. I just saw a flurry of tweets about the evidence for the importance of flavors, based on survey responses. These surveys ask vapers to rank or score their reasons for vaping or what they like about vaping. I was reminded, once again, of just how bad survey research skills are in public health.

A survey can legitimately ask a question like “does having characteristic X make you more favorably disposed to do/like/vote Y?” It can even — more tenuously — ask how much so. What it cannot do is figure out what Y’s most important characteristics are. It cannot even rank them.

Why not? Continue reading

Tobacco Wars collateral damage: feature, not bug

by Carl V Phillips

A single-observation post, inspired by the great consternation I am seeing this week about proposed FDA retail restrictions on vapes, ostensibly for the purpose of reducing vaping by minors. There are quite a few reasons this is a terrible policy (see coverage by Clive Bates here), but the theme of the typical criticism is that it will hurt legal “proper” vape consumers (primarily by denying them flavors they like or convenient purchase venues) more than it will “help” teenagers (by denying them something they want to do). The criticism is presented as if this supposedly odd perverse effect might persuade tobacco controllers to change the policy.

Here’s the thing: Hurting people who continue to use a tobacco product is considered a feature, not a bug. Despite the endless chatter about trivial policies, there is basically only one category of tobacco control policies that matter (by any measure), other than the bans that exist for some products in some places: the high punitive taxes on cigarettes and other products. These policies is lauded by many of the same people who condemn blunt-instrument anti-teen-vaping policies. Yet they are almost exactly the same from an ethical perspective. Continue reading

What is a lie?, revisited.

by Carl V Phillips

As regular readers know, I have written a fair bit about the nature of lies. I make a serious study of it as part of the mission of this blog and my larger approach to the politics of harm reduction and real public health. I do this with as much scientific rigor as is possible for such a question. Recently a confluence of events — the ongoing attempts of the press to deal with Trump’s claims, dealing with my ex’s lawyer, and most importantly the “vaping causes seizures” controversy — reminded me that I have not updated my thinking on this for a while. So here goes. Continue reading

New statistics about vape risk misperception (and a subtle extra-bad implication)

by Carl V Phillips

A new paper in JAMA Network Open by Jidong Huang et al. from Georgia State University provides some new statistics about just how effective the war on vaping is, in terms of the average American’s perceptions of risk. Despite working for one of FDA’s pet research shops, the authors make clear their opinion that it is bad that so many people think that vaping is as harmful as smoking or worse. Continue reading

San Francisco is the stupidest place in the world to think of the children

by Carl V Phillips

As anyone who follows the news about vaping policy in the U.S. knows, San Francisco is considering banning the sale of all vapes, on the heels of their ban on “flavored” vapes (which, of course, means flavors that are not identified as tobacco-ish or minty [Correction: I was reminded that this particular flavor ban, unlike most, also bans minty and allows only tobacco-ish]). Not at all surprising, the claim is that this ban is all about protecting the chiiiildren.

Amelia Howard had the brilliant insight to realize that San Francisco simply does not have that many children. She checked it out and posted this image on Twitter: Continue reading

Sunday Science Lesson: phenomena and measurement

by Carl V Phillips

It is a science lesson bonanza this weekend. This morning I did this Twitter thread about the publication bias and the recent new indictment of the health effects of eating eggs. My first science lesson tutorial is also underway at my Patreon page (open access). The present topic is an outgrowth of an exchange I had with one of my patrons, in which I was helping with the interpretation of a critique of a paper.

Most of science is about trying to estimate a specific measure of a phenomenon like “vaping causes people to quit smoking” (the underlying phenomenon). The measure, however, is something like “how many additional quitters were there in the US over the last five years as a result of vaping?” or “how much more likely is someone to quit if they seriously try to switch to vaping?” There is actually room for debate about whether it is meaningful to talk of phenomena apart from measurement, and other philosophical stuff like that. But though I did a fellowship in philosophy of science, I am basically just a simple scientist who accepts the intuitive notion that there are phenomena in the universe, which exist whether we measure them or not, and we are trying to estimate some measure of them. And, moreover, that the measurements are just Platonic shadows of the phenomenon, not the phenomenon itself. This science lesson looks at some of the implications of different ways of measuring the same phenomena.

That brings us to elephants. Continue reading