Friday, October 21, 2016

He knows nothing

That's a Sgt Schultz reference, by the way, and specifically made only in relation to the curious matter of Sinclair Davidson's invitations to talk internationally about his research that disputes the efficacy of tobacco plain packaging.

Look, it's good that he spoke to this Canadian journalist at all, but TimT - what on earth is wrong with a journo pressing Sinclair on the matter of whether tobacco company money is behind his appearances at such meetings?   I don't think her questions were disrespectful in tone at all, and if a journalist wants to put challenges to his research for comment, what's wrong with that?   If anything, I wish she had been more aggressive.

Because, let's face it, Sinclair shows a distinct lack of curiosity as to whether tobacco funding is involved, indirectly:
J: Was the tobacco industry involved in the visit in any way?
SD: Not to my knowledge.
J: The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies said that their event was held in partnership with Crestview Strategy, a lobbying firm that represents one of Canada’s biggest tobacco companies, so I would like to have some clarity around the involvement of the tobacco industry.
SD: I can’t help you there – I hadn’t heard of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies before I spoke there, nor have I heard of them since. I also spoke at the Economic Club of Canada meeting in Toronto and Convenience Store meetings in Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. I have no knowledge as to how the meetings were organised. Beyond ensuring that each venue had a powerpoint projector I had no interest in the organisation of the meetings.
....I have had contact with people in Canada (obviously – at the talks I gave), the UK, and parts of Europe opposed to plain packaging. These people work in media, think tanks, and consumer rights organisations.
J: Can you confirm whether the institute currently receives any funding?
SD: I don’t know if the IPA currently receives funding from the tobacco industry – I have never been told that it does.
Here's the question that she should have asked as a follow up:

"Would it bother you if you knew that tobacco industry funding was behind the meetings you addressed, or, for that matter, part funding the IPA and its long campaign again plain packaging?"

Now, I presume his answer would be "no, not particularly.  I oppose plain packaging on libertarian grounds, and as such it matters little to me who funds the message."

And I can think of a couple of follow up questions from that.

But why does Sinclair even seemingly reject this proposition (in italics, which are mine)?:
As it turns out I had a long discussion with Garfield Mahood in Toronto during the Q&A session of my talk at the Economic Club and also again after the session. He put to me the same questions with the same underlying premise that somehow I am corrupt, or on the take, or that my motives are base, or that I am inadvertently benefiting the tobacco industry, etc. etc. that you have put to me. Mind you, he was very quick to back away from stating that premise when I asked him if that is what he was implying. In the end he seemed happy to accept that I am an academic doing research and publishing results, and my motive to come to Canada was to visit my relatives.
Oh come on.   How could he plausibly not be at least inadvertently benefiting the tobacco industry by not only doing this research, but going to meetings where they want to hear his "plain packaging hasn't worked" message?   Especially if he shows no interest in knowing whether there is tobacco funding in the background?

Seems to be an obvious over-reach there. 


not trampis said...

his 'research' is embarrassing. He is the john Lott of plain packaging.
If we take him at his word then he has no idea of how national accounts are calculated.

TimT said...

Jeepers Steve, odd way of pursuing a blog argument! Commenting here on a comment I left elsewhere and waiting for me to drop by and respond!

TimT said...

It just seemed representative of a certainly bad journalistic habit - obviously journalists have a certain story they want to pursue, a certain angle they like to emphasise, and a certain editorial influence behind their stories. In this case they've obviously been encouraged to pursue the 'tobacco funding behind research' stories.

Sinc's answers in response struck me as being fairly generous and knowledgeable in his own area of research. He gave expansive detailed answers that, in the hands of an intelligent reporter and a respectable news source, could have been excellent material.

But the newspapers we have today, and the current affairs programs we have today, aren't that respectable news source.

It seems fairly obviously that the reporter is going to clip out one or two quotes relevant to their angle and that will be the last of the interview as far as they're concerned. Given the length of time they took pursuing the 'tobacco funding' question it seems fairly obvious they're not going to be very interested in Sinc's actual area of expertise, or his detailed responses.

In one sense I can understand this line of questioning if it happens with recalcitrant politicians - the politicians have a PR angle they want to emphasise, too, and they treat the journalists as prey in a kind of cat and mouse game. The journalist, in turn, tries to treat the politicians as prey and switch the cat and mouse position around. Sometimes asking the same question repeatedly can work in that sort of situation.

But in the case of the interview with Sinc it just seemed ill-mannered and ill-considered and didn't elicit anything particularly interesting.

(Once you see this phenomenon happening in press conferences you recognise it for the bad journalistic tic that it is: at a press conference a public figure will give a long and detailed response about a particular area of concern. The journalist in return will lift out a quote that is often enough not particularly relevant to the detailed response, use that (often deceptively, out of context) to try to take down the public figure concerned. If it sells a few more papers, gets a few more clicks online, it will be considered worth it.

It's mendacious and deceptive and does nothing for the health of public discourse in this country.)

Steve said...

Tim, your complaint about that type of journalism probably has to wait until the report actually appears, to see if that is what she does, no?

As for my cross blog means of discussion - I seem to have 5 pretty regular readers that I know of - you, Jason, Homer, John and monty. Seems I can have relative confidence in knowing they'll see a post addressing the directly.

To my surprise, John Quiggin commented here once too, earlier this year, but one has ones doubts that he's hanging on my every word!

TimT said...

Well yeah, we'll see what the article has in it, but it's obviously a line of questioning better for pursuing a recalcitrant politician than someone like Sinclair.

Steve said...

Why shouldn't such a contrarian on this public health issue, with an association with a think tank which at least had tobacco funding in the past (I think that much is known), not be pressed hard on this point?