In 2009, McKee penned a piece on “Denialism”, where he sought to compare the ignoring or rejection of scientific evidence as being akin to the Holocaust.
“Denialism is a process that employs some or all of five characteristic elements in a concerted way.” His five steps from the article are listed as follows:
- The first is the identification of conspiracies.
- The second is the use of fake experts.
- The third characteristic is selectivity, drawing on isolated papers.
- The fourth is the creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver.
- The fifth is the use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies.
This week, the highly respected New Scientist published an article on the VIP e-cig advert by McKee. Let’s take a look at it with reference to McKee’s own words on denialism.
“Despite concerns expressed by many in the public health community, e-cigarette makers have for the first time been allowed to show them being used in television adverts in the UK.”
There is little by way of published evidence to support the notion of ‘many’. Would this be the creation of fake experts or the use of misrepresentation?
“...the UK's Advertising Standards Authority allowed an opportunity for e-cigarette manufacturers – which now include all the major tobacco companies – to show that they could be socially responsible. They have blown this opportunity.”
Linking Big T to the VIP advert is clear misrepresentation in an effort to promote a sense of fear without any logical argument. The advert itself can be termed anything from trite to tasteless – but an allegation of social irresponsibility is, again, misrepresentation. Aside from his salivating over the finer details of the woman’s appearance we are left non the wiser as to what McKee would constitute as being socially responsible.
He then embarks on Step 3: Ignoring all sound peer-reviewed research demonstrating take-up rates of vaping with the young and non-smokers is minimal to irrelevant as an argument, McKee selectively cites (and misrepresents pictures as legitimate research) a ‘Tobacco Free Kids’ webpage as evidence of Big T’s pernicious ensnaring of children.
“Although there are many anecdotes from smokers who claim that e-cigarettes – properly known as electronic nicotine delivery systems – have helped them quit, so far no one has been able to show that they are more effective than nicotine replacement therapy, itself not very effective as a quitting aid.”
Martin must have missed the article on Planet of the Vapes last week where we detailed two studies proving the effectiveness of e-cigs in smoking cessation. Further evidence of McKee selectively drawing upon isolated examples to support his opinion.
“Here it is essential to recall one simple fact. The companies promoting these products so aggressively are not doing so on the grounds that smokers will use them for 10 to 12 weeks as a means of withdrawing altogether from nicotine. Why would they? It would be very difficult to justify the sums being invested in marketing on that basis. Instead, they see them as products that people might use for 30 to 40 years.”
Logical fallacy is here stated as “fact”. Without any evidence, without any research, McKee demonstrates ignorance of the ability of the user to adjust the volume of nicotine gradually to zero – preferring to invent a manufacturers’ conspiracy of ensnaring a new generation of vapers into addiction.
“For such long-term use, the concerns about toxicity are quite different. They include growing evidence that nicotine promotes tumour growth.”
Selectively citing one piece of research, he embarks on a Daily Mail tactic of wishing to instil fear of the product because of a perceived risk. There is no evidential link between vaping and cancer. This isn’t to say there isn’t a risk, but ignoring the reduction in risk as a result of smoking cessation is disingenuous.
Looking at McKee’s physique, people may wonder what products he consumes to excess with scant regard to their effects on his long-term health?
“Second, manufacturers use a wide range of flavourings, such as peach, candy floss, and even Gummy Bear, that seem designed to appeal to children. However, while humans have evolved defence mechanisms in their guts and livers to eliminate toxins from foods over many millennia, these products have never been inhaled over decades.”
Is McKee inventing a conspiracy here, setting himself up as a fake expert or creating impossible research expectations? His refusal to appreciate evidence that adults prefer these flavours to the taste of smoke and tar, or demonstrate knowledge of applicable research (as detailed on POTV), is indicative of a man desperate to misrepresent through further failed logic.
“Third, there is increasing evidence that the ultrafine particles released in e-cigarettes may have adverse consequences for the cardiovascular system.”
Further selective citation and misrepresentation, McKee ignores the fundamental truth that it is not the size of the particle but its chemical composition. Doctor Farsalinos pointed out in his rebuttal to Stanton Glantz that boiling kettles emit ultrafine particles of water – this makes them no more dangerous than the water in the kettle.
“As the US group Smoke Free Movies has shown, imagery of smoking, or something that looks like it, is incredibly powerful in promoting youth smoking.”
If you look at the page he links to there is a dearth of evidence, just opinion and inference from statistics taken in isolation from other factors. Children are no more likely to smoke as a result of the advert than they are to rush off to Greggs after seeing a picture of Martin McKee.
As McKee himself says in his final paragraph on denialism: “Whatever the motivation, it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal academic response to an opposing argument is to engage with it, testing the strengths and weaknesses of the differing views, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties obey certain ground rules, such as a willingness to look at the evidence as a whole, to reject deliberate distortions and to accept principles of logic.” Perhaps he ought to re-read it, it’s probably the best piece he’s had published.