Personal attacks, questionable ethics and support for censorship when the results do not fit to the agenda (?): a sad story of scientific misconduct
- Thursday, 13 November 2014 00:27
Personal attacks, questionable ethics and support for censorship when the results do not fit to the agenda (?)
A sad story of scientific misconduct
By Dr Farsalinos
In an unprecedented attempt to create confusion, support censorship, intimidate journal editors and discredit research which obviously does not fit to his agenda, Prof Stanton Glantz released a statement in his blog engaging in a direct personal attack against me and against International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health for “daring” to publish research conducted by Lorillard Tobacco concerning e-cigarettes.
Unfortunately for anyone behaving in a similar way, it is going to be extremely hard to intimidate me, both scientifically and personally. From a scientific perspective, the arguments presented by Prof Glantz are another collection of scientifically irrelevant logorrhea, in a repeated and easily-recognized attempt to misinform and create confusion. The study referred by Prof Glantz is the first study evaluating the mutagenicity of e-cigarette aerosol, using the Ames test. This is the most recognized and acceptable form of testing for mutagenicity, developed in the early 1970s by Bruce Ames from the University of California, Berkeley (and not from any tobacco company). Additionally, Lorillard researchers used human lung epithelial cells to test the cytotoxic properties of e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products and NRTs. Supporting that these cells are not relevant to e-cigarette research shows only two things: either ignorance or political manipulation and deliberate misinformation. He exposes himself by clearly mentioning that research should be conducted on cells that are SENSITIVE to e-cigarettes, while a scientifically sound approach is to test them on cells which are RELEVANT to e-cigarette use. This is protocol manipulation in order to deliberately show negative results. I suppose no regulatory or scientific authority would ever prefer e-cigarettes to be tested on embryonic neuronal stem cells rather than on human lung epithelial cells. Moreover, his arguments show the typical difference between being a predisposed commentator and making a proper scientific assessment of a research study.
I would stop here, however, it is important to discuss the real intentions behind such commentaries, which are to intimidate researchers who have a positive opinion about e-cigarettes and prevent them from publishing their study findings because they do not fit to his agenda. This is a serious ethical issue. It reminds me of a reviewer comment on the worldwide survey of more than 19,000 vapers that I published earlier this year: “It will be published and advocates will rally around the paper claiming EC are wonderful, based on a very biased study. The editors of the journal will have to weigh the usefulness of such data.” Of course, the reviewer never mentioned why the study was biased, but his opinion was obviously biased because he just did not like the results. That was a classical breach of reviewing rules.
In any case, Prof Glantz is not in a position to judge or criticize anyone. Before that, he has to explain why he deliberately mis-presented and misinformed the public about the results of the South Korean adolescents study, in which he was an author. He has to explain why the finding that 26.3% of adolescents were tobacco cigarette experimenters and 9.4% were e-cigarette experimenters (8% of which were also cigarette experimenters-Figure 1) was presented by him as: “We are witnessing the beginning of a new phase of the nicotine epidemic and a new route to nicotine addiction for kids”.
Figure 1. Tobacco and e-cigarette experimentation in South Korean Adolescents. From Lee et al. J Adolesc Health 2014;54:684-690.
He has to explain how it is possible in a cross-sectional study (“photo of the moment” study, with no longitudinal follow up) to define that e-cigarette use was the exposure and tobacco cigarette use the outcome (implying that e-cigarette use preceded tobacco cigarette use). He has to publicly apologize for deliberately deceiving regulators, public health authorities, journalists and the society. He has to explain what is hidden behind this dubious and inappropriate effort to create confusion and intimidation. Then, he has to explain why he accuses scientists of designing studies “in a way that minimizes or obscures toxic effects”, but he does not present a single argument supporting this. I am not willing to follow a political agenda supported by pseudo-results (i.e. mis-presentation of results) of research.
Lorillard just published another paper on e-cigarettes in another journal (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology), but he ignored that because it would not fit to a personal attack against me. Additionally, he probably missed that one of the journals he cited (Toxicology in Vitro), recently published a study performed by Philip Morris International. Finally, I did not see any criticism for other journals publishing research by tobacco companies, such as Food and Chemical Toxicology, Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers Prevention, Chemical Research in Toxicology, Inhalation Toxicology and many more. Even more interestingly, Prof Glantz never mentioned or commented on the worst study for e-cigarettes until now, which was published by my group, finding diacetyl and acetyl propionyl in a large proportion of sweet-flavored liquids. Why? Obviously because he would have to accept our findings that the levels found in e-cigarette liquids were 100 and 10 times lower compared to tobacco cigarettes; such statements, although presenting nothing but the whole truth, are probably unacceptable for him.
I will not allow anyone to “play” with and “discredit” my efforts to present the truth and guide smokers in an honest and science-based approach towards reducing the harm induced by smoking. It is understandable that people who have never treated a single smoker cannot realize the harm caused to this population group by their actions. However, it is time for those who deliberately intimidate smokers by mis-presenting research to be held accountable for their actions of discouraging smokers from using a less harmful alternative.
Below is my conflict of interest as mentioned in today's E-cigarette Summit in London.