Making stuff up and calling it science

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A study just published in the journal Tobacco Control evaluated the effectiveness of the graphic anti-smoking posters that New Yorkers may see when buying a pack of cigarettes. Since 2009, a New York City policy has required that these posters be located at point of sale at all cigarette retail outlets. And the results? "The signs did not help recent quitters to stay quit or stop smokers from purchasing cigarettes at the current convenient store," the authors report. Yet they conclude that these results demonstrate that the graphic posters are "associated with a doubling in the awareness of health warning signs and an 11 percent increase in stimulating thoughts about quitting."

"Well, whoopity doo," writes ACSH scientific advisor Dr. Michael Siegel, whose discussion of this study on his Tobacco Analysis blog brought the findings to our attention. Dr. Siegel, a specialist in tobacco control at Boston University's School of Public Health, points out that this is yet another study "whose findings are not in concordance with the reported study conclusion." The problem here, he notes, is that the policy did not result in smokers quitting. And even worse, Dr. Siegel observes, is that this disconnect between the dismal results of current smoking cessation studies and the official conclusions reached has become par for the course:

You can see what saddens me about the current state of tobacco control science and policy. Rather than basing policy on the existing science, we instead come to a priori conclusions about what policies we want to pursue. The goal then becomes to manufacture evidence to support the pre-ordained conclusions and support the pre-ordained agenda, instead of finding out the truth of what works and what doesn't and supporting the policies that work.

This is an anti-scientific mindset at work, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. Authors have the conclusions set in stone even before and after the data are in, with no thought being given to actually dealing with the evidence gathered.

You can read here the entirety of Dr. Siegel's analysis of this study and its all-too-familiar implications.