Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Day 206: A long way from Strathclyde

"I have made it quite clear earlier that my motive is not to support the tobacco industry. I am here to defend good science and to try to persuade you that some of the things we have been looking at is bad science in a good cause. Bad science in a good cause is still bad science." - John B. Davies, January 29, 2014
After two and half days testifying at the Montreal tobacco trials, social psychologist John Booth Davies will return to Scotland with a deeper understanding of the differences between presenting novel and unconventional scientific theories in a faculty club and having them thrashed out in a court of law.

Given his fondness for Attribution Theory, I wonder how he will describe his first public outing as a tobacco industry witness. This morning, he gave a colourful illustration of attribution: "If you win the case you are more likely to go home and say 'I did well today'. If you lose you will go home and say circumstances conspired against you."   

Plaintiff lawyer Philippe Trudel did what he could to make circumstances conspire against Mr. Davies' giving any credence to the industry's position that "Neither 'addiction' nor 'dependence' deprives anyone of their free will or impairs their ability to stop smoking." (Citation from RBH's statement of defence).

The kid gloves come off

After two days of relative congeniality, the courtroom atmosphere stiffened this morning in the home-stretch of the cross-examination. Mr. Davies was no longer allowed to wander off-topic, and Mr. Trudel no longer disguised his intent to cut the ground out from under the anti-addiction views of this 69-year old social psychologist.

In some of the more captivating hours of exchange at this trial, Mr. Trudel launched a two-pronged credibility attack. The first was aimed at exposing the weaknesses in the philosophical plynth that Mr. Davies had constructed beneath his expert report. The second was an attempt to debunk the vision of Mr. Davies' as an iconoclastic authority in the addictions field, and to replace it with a picture of a man who is eccentric, a contrarian, and very likely a bit of a nutter.

Paper tigers and philosophers of science

John Stuart Mill. Ludwig Wittgenstein. Karl Popper. A.J. Ayer. Thomas Khun.  There were a lot of big names thrown about as Mr. Davies answered some warm-up questions about his views on tobacco control by appealing to a broader philosophy. "The right of people to do to themselves things they wish to do."  "A good scientific theory will not involve concepts that I can't see." "Science never proves anything, it only moves forward." "You never find truth, you only find better theories." "Old guys like me die and new people come along with different ideas."

And on this broad philosophical terrain, Mr. Davies continued to portray himself as a champion of the individual drug user against a "reductionist pharmacological model" of addiction.

Yet, when asked, he could not identify who, exactly, was on the other side of this dialectic. Who said that smokers smoked only for nicotine? Who said that it was not possible for smokers to quit? Other than Dr. Negrete, he could not name names.

Facing sustained questions for the first time, Mr. Davies began to back down. He acknowledged that the pharmacology of a drug was indeed a hurdle to quitting. He agreed that with a few wording changes ("difficulty in quitting" instead of "erosion of will") his own view was not so far from that of Dr. Negrete. He attributed the "reconceptualization" to Dr. Negrete.)

Concern for the young

Mr. Trudel stripped the philosophy away and put Mr. Davies' common-sense views on addiction on record by asking him how he would counsel a "strong-willed" teenager who wondered about using crystal meth. The iconoclast sounded like a worried uncle: "I would be telling the young lady 'don’t do it! It is dangerous. You may well develop a habit, you would be much better to leave it well alone'."

Nonetheless, he would not use the word addiction. "I would say there is a good chance that with this drug you might get into trouble. You might want to use it more and more and you might get into a state where it is doing no good at all. I would never tell her that she would get into a position where she could not stop."

Mr. Trudel showed him the results of focus groups that had been commissioned by Imperial Tobacco in which the researchers concluded that the prospect of losing autonomy was one of the more powerful messages that could be used to discourage young people from smoking. (Projet Jeunesse - Exhibit 301). Mr. Davies was doubtful, saying this was "counter to the research I have done myself." 

Twenty years of non-disclosure

During the voir dire on Monday, Mr. Davies had been asked about his refusal to agree with the 1997 Farmington Consensus (Exhibit 1686) that would require authors to disclose their sources of funding. He said that he had refused to do so out of concerns that such requirements were "unfair"  and  "a precursor to censorship."

Philippe Trudel today revealed another possible motive: Mr. Davies himself would have been caught up in the obligation to report the work he had done for tobacco industry lawyers starting in 1994. (He was recruited by the notorious Shook, Hardy and Bacon, but said today he had never done background research on the firm.)

This was a financial relationship he did not reveal -- even when he wrote about tobacco litigation as a disservice to smokers in a book he published the same year as the consensus. ("Drugspeak: the Analysis of Drug Discourse, Exhibit 21060.63A)

It seems likely that quite soon another example may take centre stage, in the form of litigation against tobacco companies. Smokers experiencing health problems will seek compensation in the courts, on the basis that due to the "addictive" properties of nicotine, they were unable to stop smoking. This David and Goliath scenario can only be seen as the little man or woman fighting the might of the international tobacco giants. But if the little man/woman wins, it will give credence to a view of smoking as an addiction which will actually make it less likely that others will be able to stop.

He expressed no misgivings about his decision to side with the companies. A victory for the plaintiffs would "send a disastrous message to the world. It will rubber-stamp the idea that you cannot control your smoking habits and you can get paid for continuing to smoke. ... This is where the battle has to be fought and this is why I am here."

"An outlier and not very credible from an historical point of view"?

Mr. Trudel closed his cross-examination by suggesting to Justice Riordan that Mr. Davies' views were so far from mainstream that they were not a safe hook to hang a ruling on.

He pointed to Mr. Davies admitted tendency to conclude that "when everyone agrees about something it must be wrong."  Why, even the "too comfy" theory of evolution was one Mr. Davies wanted to see challenged. (Preface to Drugspeak: Exhibit 21060.63)

He pointed to the conclusion of another expert witness for the defence - historian Robert John Perrins who had said that after the 1989 consensus on the use of the word addiction, "anybody who would say the contrary would be an outlier and not very credible, from an historical point of view."

Last of all, he pointed to Mr. Davies' rambling tirade against a government measures to control tobacco.  "I start seeing gas chambers!" Mr. Davies had told the camera. (Exhibit 1692)

(I stumbled across the same video last weekend when I was looking at material in advance of Mr. Davies' appearance. I decided against making reference to it in the blog, as I thought it unlikely that Imperial Tobacco would have chosen a witness as out of touch with normal public health discourse as the clip made Mr. Davies appear.

Mr. Trudel must have conducted a similar web-search. By the time he showed the video at the end of this morning, I had come around to the opinion that the video was fair to Mr. Davies.)

What more could be said?  Mr. Trudel thanked Mr. Davies, and sat down.

Tellingly, Imperial Tobacco's lawyer, Sonia Bjorkquist, decided against putting any further questions to her witness. Justice Riordan had none either.

Back to other matters

The afternoon session was spent discussing - inconclusively - a few important trial issues. These will be reported later.

Tomorrow, JTI-Macdonald's Mr. Lance Newman is expected to complete his testimony in the morning. In the afternoon some procedural matters.