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University fights Philip Morris tobacco research bid

  1. Sep 1, 2011 #1

    cobalt124

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  3. Sep 1, 2011 #2
    I can see where they could have legitimate reasons for such information and I do not see any particular reason why they should not have it besides the possibility of what they may do with it. I am not sure if there is or could be any legal exemption simply because the person requesting the information could theoretically put it to a problematic use. What if Phillip Morris simply paid a research group to look for studies regarding such topics? Would they be refused? Would they be required to say that they are being paid by Philip Morris?
     
  4. Sep 1, 2011 #3

    Ryan_m_b

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    Hmmm I'm not sure I agree with the complaint here. The objection is that the data;

    A) Is illegal for a tobacco company to research itself

    B) That the data was given confidentially

    However surely the research aims to be public anyway? If they've published their findings it isn't unacceptable to be asked for the raw data. Also the confidentiality issue only raises it's head if they give specific data away i.e. "John Smith, 16 from Harrow started smoking..."
     
  5. Sep 1, 2011 #4
    Apparantly the issue here is about two conflicting principles, freedom of information versus promised confidentiality. That it is about tobacco is appeal to emotion and has nothing to do with it. Could just as well be about beer or potatoes or red herrings.

    Disclaimer: I haven't smoked for decades and I detest it, but fallacies are just as bad.
     
  6. Sep 1, 2011 #5
    "We are not seeking any private or confidential information on any individuals involved with the research. As provided by the freedom of Information Act, confidential and private information concerning individuals should not be disclosed."

    As long as the university withholds personally identifying information, there shouldn't be any harm. Though I am curious what Phillip Morris expects to accomplish with that data.
     
  7. Sep 1, 2011 #6
    They could theoretically be being conscientious with regard to the effect of advertisement on minors though that is pretty much the opposite of what we would generally expect. There is also the possibility of lawsuits and legislation against the industry. They may wish to defend themselves with information regarding packaging and appeal to minors or they may wish to be knowledgeable of the study in case it is used against them.

    All just guesses of course.
     
  8. Sep 1, 2011 #7
    On one hand, it seems PMI's argument is much more valid. If they are requesting information that they are legally entitled to request, what's the big deal? A university should do all their research with an understanding of who their audience could be.

    On the other hand, the university probably knows this. They probably know they have no legal claim, but if they make enough clamor, the bad PR could force PMI to give up the legal battle, even if they know they would win in court.
     
  9. Sep 1, 2011 #8

    Ryan_m_b

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    Very, very true. I have a strong feeling that if Lung Cancer Research Charity UK requested the data there would be no problem and we'd never hear of it.
     
  10. Sep 1, 2011 #9

    cobalt124

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    From what I understand (from a radio interview of the people mentioned in the article I believe):
    If the research were publicly funded, then the FoI would be enforced by law end of story. It seems to be, however, 100% funded by a cancer charity who are obviously not happy. Either way I find it distasteful. One question is can the cancer charity stop them? Should they?

    The legitimate reasons they claim in two FoI requests are to do with research relating to the effects of plain packaging on sales and the effects of non-display on sales, which may be being legislated for at some future date. I don't think this is legitimate in any sense as they are acting in the interests of their own profits, however indirectly, and against the interests of public health by definition. Philip Morris should pay for their own research.

    They seem to be requesting the "raw data". The universities' research is public, peer reviewed papers have been published by the university that are available to them, the subjects of the FoI being "still in it's early stages", which suggests to me that Philip Morris are in a hurry for some reason. The fact that the data is specifically about underage smokers attitudes to smoking, not adults, makes it all the more sinister. The university claim a "care of confidentiality" to the participants in the data gathering as they promised restricted use to limited people.

    I would like to add the issue of child health, and confess to being emotive about that and smoking (against).

    We can be certain it is not in the interests of public health.

    Hadn't thought of that, but it is a worry of theirs that if the request goes through further research may stop.

    Good luck to them I say, I don't believe PMI are playing a clean game.


    I guess it boils down to the true intentions of the parties involved.
     
  11. Sep 1, 2011 #10
    Isn't the reason for Freedom of Information so that information about a topic can be diseminated to the public at a request and analysized by interested parties? It seems you are an advocating a "pick and choose" policy.
     
  12. Sep 2, 2011 #11
  13. Sep 2, 2011 #12

    Dale

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    If the data is really covered under FoI then PM has every right to request it. If the University told people that public information is confidential then they made a big mistake.
     
  14. Sep 2, 2011 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    And what's wrong with that? That's how science works.

    There are people - including scientists - who feel that since X is a public good, and if Y is a shoddy scientific study that supports X, we have to support Y despite it's poor quality. I find this argument, frankly, unscientific.

    If this study is credible, let PMI do their worst. It will only increase the credibility. If it's not, its even more important that it be challenged.
     
  15. Sep 2, 2011 #14
    I am not saying that there is anything wrong with it though the article certainly leans in that direction. Personally I do not really like the idea of scientific research being withheld unless there is a very good reason. I do not even particularly like that corporations can do research and sit on the data as "proprietary information" for seventy years. That PMI could theoretically abuse the information is disconcerting but I am not convinced that is a good enough reason to withhold it.
     
  16. Sep 5, 2011 #15

    cobalt124

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    Well, from a purely emotional point of view, I don't like the fact that PMI could do this, rationally "pick and choose" would not be possible. I didn't actually start the thread to grind an axe, I was just interested in academic opinion on the situation. I have no doubt that PMI research will not be objective, I don't really know whether the universitys research will be.

    I completely agree with your sentiments and would love to have that much faith in the scientific process. I guess the problem is that PMI are asking for the raw data and that would be easily twistable to their agenda and murky the waters. We have already seen what can be achieved at the expense of public health when people have an agenda in the recent MMR vaccine scare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy), this involving bodies that were supposedly objective and trustworthy. In PMI we cleary have an organisation with an agenda.
     
  17. Sep 5, 2011 #16
    My opinion may be biased, but I do not believe any help should be given to a tobacco company for anything other than genuinely helping people people quit. Since that's contrary to their entire reason for being in business, no money or aid should ever be given.
     
  18. Sep 6, 2011 #17

    cobalt124

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    That's my stance too, DoggerDan, it's just annoying that FoI can be used like this for profit, or for harming public health, which is not in question (?) given the actions of the tobacco industry over the last fifty or so years.
     
  19. Sep 6, 2011 #18

    Dale

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    Personally, I value the principle of FoI far more that it seems many on this thread do. I think FoI is very important, and that the benefits of FoI are much greater than the harm that PM could do by accessing the data. The same FoI that PM is invoking to obtain access to the data can be used by other organizations to obtain access to the same data and keep PM "honest" in its use of the data.

    Just like freedom of speech, if you seek to restrict it from people who say things you don't like, then you no longer have freedom of speech. If you set the legal precedent that FoI may be restricted from certain groups, then you no longer have FoI. It is not worth it; let PM have the data.
     
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