Mayo clinic: still lying after all these years

When I first started researching disinformation campaigns designed to discourage tobacco harm reduction about eight years ago, the Mayo Clinic was probably the worst private sector source of anti-THR lies (see, e.g., this article).  They were hugely overshadowed in that department by the U.S. government, but this was before the emergence of other private sector propagandists like the newly rich anti-tobacco extremist groups, and the American Cancer Society was not yet quite so dedicated to the disinformation (and their followers at American Heart Association and American Lung Association had not yet taking up their cause).  In the ensuing years, though, many other organizations so overshadowed Mayo’s efforts that it was easy to forget about them.

But apparently they remain intent on telling the lies, and they seem to have a lot of pull with news alert services, so today when Mayo posted this broadside by their employee Jennifer A. Kern, they were able to get it a lot of play even though the commentary contains nothing more than the typical insipid high-school-newsletter-level anti-THR article.  As you might guess, Kern claims that smokeless tobacco causes “mouth and gum” cancer (…I could have sworn everyone kept their gums in their mouth…), though of course anyone who knows what the research actually shows (a category that apparently does not include Ms. Kern or the officials at Mayo Clinic who vetted her commentary) knows that despite a history of belief to the contrary, products that would be adopted by Americans seeking THR have been clearly shown to not cause any measurable risk.  She goes on to make claims that contradict the evidence and are not even based on common misunderstanding, that ST causes esophageal cancer and salivary gland cancer (the latter no doubt an attempt to mislead people into believing that Tony Gwynn’s headline-generating cancer was caused by his ST use).  Her claim about laryngeal cancer is also without scientific basis, but is even more disturbing because she apparently thinks this is an oral site (note to self:  If I need neck surgery, do not go to Mayo clinic).

The list continues on with various other sites, some obviously wrong and some wrong but less obvious (it does take some expertise to understand that we do not actually have strong evidence that ST causes pancreatic cancer, expertise which Kern and her vetters have already clearly demonstrated they do not have).  The list climaxes with penile cancer.  I think that anyone who is giving himself penile cancer with ST is perhaps mixing up his harm reduction products, and should also be advised to remove the condom he has tucked under his lip.

There is more, but it is the same stuff you have heard before.  Most of it playing the game of pretending that if the authors of just one study out of the dozens that exist managed to cook the data to find a strong association then there is evidence of causation.  I have no idea whether Kern and her vetters are quite so ignorant of how scientific inference works, or just think that their lies are somehow cleaner if they can dress them up that way.

Interestingly, though, Kern cannot even follow the standard “true but not honest” script by writing “smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative.”  Instead she flubs it and writes, “What you need to know is that whether you smoke it or not, there’s no safe level of tobacco use.”  It just pains me that someone can get away with that claim.  Is American science education so bad that people will read such nonsense and accept it as true?  I know very little about botany or climatology (to pick a random example), but if I read something like “there is no level of global warming that will not harm the pollination of this flower” I would immediately realize that there is no possible way anyone could ever know that, and that the author is writing propaganda and not science.  I can understand how you can trick people into believing that there is evidence that modern American ST products have been shown to cause cancer:  You just lie about what the research shows and count on readers not having access to the truth.  But how can you trick people into believing that there is evidence that those who have tried ST once are less healthy than those who have never touched tobacco?

This emphasizes something I have been contending about Mayo et al. from the start of my work on this:  They are cynically taking advantage of people’s scientific ignorance.  But even worse, they are trying to intentionally increase that ignorance, telling not only factual lies but also trying to mislead people about how science works and how to properly interpret scientific results.  This fits the extremist agenda, of being willing to damage public health, people’s lives, and the credibility of science in pursuit of their one aim.  However, back when Mayo was a leader in this propaganda, the extremist agenda was not so dominant.  So perhaps there is hope that their new foray is just old habit rather than an indication that they have abandoned public health in favor  of the Tobacco Front of the Drug War.

– Carl V. Phillips

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  • Paul  On October 29, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Did I misread this and was it actually Kern who had that other smokeless product creating a rather unsightly and larger than usual bulge under her lip? After all if you are going to swallow all this misinformation in the first place I suspect it is rather easy to confuse the two products since both sometimes come in flavors.

    But in all seriousness surely the time has come to call the condom manufacturers on this “condom candy”, this blatant and highly improper attempt to attract children who otherwise would not be eating condoms of any kind. At least, for heaven’s sake, make sure the packaging clearly indicates that these are not some new confection. (I showed one of those packages to a child and asked them what they thought it was and they replied “candy?” and I thought there you have it, proof they are targeting children).

  • Carl V Phillips  On October 29, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Responding to Paul:
    We should totally do that research, and get it started in time for halloween: Fill one plastic jack-o-lantern with assorted candy and another with festive looking condoms. When the kiddies come to the door, ask them if they want some candy. I hypothesize that almost as many kids will incorrectly identify condoms as candy as correctly identify candy as candy.

    Actually, lets just skip that step and just write up the results. It would fit in better with the anti-ST “research” that way.

    Something else occurred to me after I posted:
    Perhaps Kern actually understands more epidemiology than she lets on. Perhaps she was just trying to claim that ST use is strongly associated with penile cancer, which is true: American ST users are almost twice as likely to get penile cancer as the average American.

    (If you missed that, here is the answer key: A very large majority of American ST user are men. Men are twice as likely as the average person to get penile cancer. However, Kern gets points taken off for not also pointing out how equally protective ST appears to be for ovarian cancer.)

  • Elaine Keller  On October 30, 2010 at 6:53 am

    One of my fellow CASAA members, Thad Marney, recently brought my attention to the term “FUD”. It stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. So it would seem that Kern is a FUD-monger.

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