Amongst the several health experts who spoke up against this shocking statement, Dr. Michael Siegel called it “a revelation of the religious-like character of the modern-day tobacco control movement”. Editors Richard O’Connor, Coral Gartner, Lisa Henriksen, Sarah Hill, Joaquin Barnoya, Joanna Cohen, and Ruth E Malone are basically implying that unless any debates questioning the scientific validity of the journal’s articles, take place on the journal itself, they are inaccurate and irrelevant.
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The editorial read:
“the growing use of personal blogs to criticise published articles has led us to reflect on appropriate ways of engaging in such debate … the proper place to pose questions and debate conclusions from research published in Tobacco Control is directly to the authors, in the form of a Rapid Response. … placing personal blog posts or social media messages complaining about a study … do not advance the field or allow an appropriate scientific dialogue and debate. … As a result of discussion about these issues, the Tobacco Control editorial team has now established a policy that editors will not respond to external blog posts or social media messages about specific studies. … We will always welcome legitimate criticism of methods, results and interpretation of published research. But we will discourage engagement with and dissemination of polemics that contribute to public misunderstandings and create conflict. As journal editors, we encourage constructive criticism and debate in ways that strengthen the evidence base for effective tobacco control policy rather than amplifying individual voices.”
Burying their head in the sand
On his blog called Anti-THR Lies and related topics, scientific director of CASAA, C.V. Phillips wrote, “basically this statement is the equivalent of putting one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “lalalala I can’t hear you”. They are declaring that they will now pretend that the reason that they do not respond is not because they could not possibly win the argument, and that trying to argue would further demonstrate the accuracy of the criticisms, but because it is their policy. Never mind the fact that they never responded before.”
On the other hand Dr. Siegel suspects that this bold move was prompted by blogs such as his, and used the example of an article published earlier this month. In the latter Siegel had quoted a paper published on Tobacco Control which concluded that vaping is a gateway to smoking.
Hence the paper made a resolute conclusion, which was publicized internationally based on an insignificant number of respondents and non-conclusive facts. Siegel pointed out that rather than admitting making a mistake, “the journal instead tried to divert attention from its mistake by attacking the messengers: those like myself who pointed out the error.”
Discouraging much needed discussions
Sadly the attitude adopted by the editors of Tobacco Control is petty and defeats the purpose of running a scientific journal. Amongst other things the aim of the latter should be to spread facts based on valid scientific research in order to promote public health, rather than being adamant when presented with counter arguments and bury one’s head in the sand.