The Dim-Post

June 14, 2016

The Whale’s model

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:33 am

Via Radio New Zealand:

Three public health researchers have filed defamation proceedings against the Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater and the tobacco industry lobbyist Carrick Graham.

The proceedings were filed in the High Court in Auckland by Professor Doug Sellman from the University of Otago, Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland and Shane Bradbrook, and relate to a series of blog posts and comments published on the Whale Oil website.

You’ve got to give Cameron Slater credit – he is/was an innovator in the media space, creating a new and unique business model I think of as ‘defamation PR’. Lobbyists like Carrick Graham, Katherine Rich and who knows who else could collaborate with him to defame public health researchers doing work critical of their employers. No one else figured out how to monetise blogging in New Zealand.

You wouldn’t think Slater publishing something attacking a health researcher would have any effect – obviously no one in the scientific community reads it. But it did work, sometimes; partly because a lot of the scientists and researchers work for universities which now have large communications and marketing teams whose KPI is to ‘mitigate risk’ and ‘protect the brand’, and who tend to panic when their media monitors alert them to something alleging that their scientists are liars and frauds and money has been stolen and the law has been broken and there’s going to be a huge investigation and everyone is going to prison, or whatever else Slater, Graham et al fabricated on any given day. Direct pressure from a junk food or tobacco company is only going to get a university’s back up. Indirect pressure leveraged from within the institution itself is far more effective.

Defamation PR only works if no one actually sues for defamation though. Presumably they’ll try and use the discovery process to find out who Slater was working for, and that may or may not expose his clients.

Update: Katherine Rich contacted me and advised:

I’ve read your other piece on recent defamation proceedings where you mention me and say I’ve collaborated to defame people.  I’ve never collaborated to defame anyone at any time. What you’ve written is untrue.

32 Comments »

  1. Surely being attacked by food or tobacco companies is one of the critical KPIs of any self respecting public health expert?

    Comment by Tinakori — June 14, 2016 @ 11:54 am

  2. They didn’t know they were being attacked by the industry before Hager’s book came out.

    Comment by danylmc — June 14, 2016 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Whether you like it or not, Slater raises a valid point about “public health advocates” that are basically funded by the state and their zealous advocacy against “the sugar barons” against any other causes of why people get fat. How dare someone who gets tax payers money get questioned!

    Comment by rjs131 — June 14, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

  4. Defaming them isnt ‘questioning them’

    Comment by duker — June 14, 2016 @ 12:28 pm

  5. “They didn’t know they were being attacked by the industry before Hager’s book came out”

    If so that would demonstrate a remarkable level of naivete, something I have never thought public health people possess. Indeed, I have often thought that Otago’s public health department was simply a large and rather cynical public relations effort with a little research on the side. If their case is being funded by a university I would say that it should be coming out of the pr budget. It’s another great platform for them.So much public health stuff that gets into the media are examples of the worst of social science, vast claims for at best modest results. Eric Crampton is very good on applying some very basic scrutiny to their claims.

    Comment by Tinakori — June 14, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

  6. http://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/386154/organ-donation-attitude-cited

    This guy for example, didn’t even bother with the research part of the equation (and I realise he is not a public health researcher.)

    Whale oil no doubt deserves the aggravation but I don’t think the wider public realise they are also the victims of some quite conscious attempts to manipulate public opinion and policy on the basis of extremely skimpy research results. It has more resemblance to performance art than science. Public health people have taken the wrong moral from the tobacco industry’s denial of the impact of their products on health and have emulated their approach rather than built their assertions on careful and solid foundations, like Richard Doll did with his landmark work on smoking and mortality published in 1950.

    Comment by Tinakori — June 14, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

  7. “Whether you like it or not, Slater raises a valid point about “public health advocates” that are basically funded by the state and their zealous advocacy against “the sugar barons” against any other causes of why people get fat. How dare someone who gets tax payers money get questioned!”

    1. Who else is going to fund Public Health Research, if not “the state”?
    2. “against any other causes of why people get fat”…so you are clearly not aware of Boyd Swinburn’s work at all are you?
    3. Being “questioned” is not the same as being lied about surely?

    “they are also the victims of some quite conscious attempts to manipulate public opinion and policy on the basis of extremely skimpy research results”

    It’s too obvious to make the observation that you sometimes have to “fight fire with fire”! Even with extremely robust research findings Sir Richard Doll had to fight and scrap and, even today, tobacco companies deny much of the research relating cigarette exposure to bad outcomes.

    Comment by Phil Moore — June 14, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

  8. “How dare someone who gets tax payers money get questioned!”

    Are the researchers suing Eric Crampton for defamation? No? Then you see the difference between legitimately “questioning” research claims/policy advice and what Slater did, right?

    Comment by Flashing Light — June 14, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

  9. Wow, Doug Sellman vs Cameron Slater – one of those fights where you wish it was possible for both sides to lose. Whoever gets the victory, I hope it’s Pyrrhic as all get-out.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — June 14, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

  10. Defamation PR only works if no one actually sues for defamation though.

    It only fails if someone sues, keeps on suing and wins. What happens if the plaintiffs withdraw their allegations or Whale Oil wins?

    Whale Oil will use his discovery to find out who is “coordinating this attack suppressing a journalist in the course of his work” – free speech and all that. The eventuality of a trial will expose the plaintiffs to a great deal of publicity on many more media platforms than just Whale Oil. Journalists tend to be unsympathetic to plaintiffs in defamation cases against other journalists and might not give the plaintiffs sympathetic a platform.

    Comment by unaha-closp — June 14, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

  11. “Journalists tend to be unsympathetic to plaintiffs in defamation cases against other journalists … “

    Fortunately, this is not such a case.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — June 14, 2016 @ 3:20 pm

  12. @10
    You’re assuming other journalists accept whaleoil is a journalist and the court will accept he wrote the pieces he did as a journalist not an attack blogger for hire.

    Comment by MeToo — June 14, 2016 @ 3:22 pm

  13. Isnt one of plantiffs Shane Bradbrook, Slater questioned what outcomes had been achieved from the expenditure of vast amounts of tax payer cash given to him which seemed to go on a large number of overseas “conferences”. Are you saying that questioning such spending is bad?

    And are you happy with taxpayer money to go to lobbyists so they can lobby the Government how to spend tax payer money???!! You see nothing wrong with that position?

    Comment by rjs131 — June 14, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

  14. “Whale Oil will use his discovery to find out who is “coordinating this attack suppressing a journalist in the course of his work”..blah blah. If he does that he will be laughed out of court.
    The onus is on him to show his published words are based on honest opinion or truth. There is evidence from his previous court proceedings that he understands nothing of the court process, and in my opinion, couldnt scratch his own arse without it being pointed out to him.

    Comment by ghostwhowalksnz — June 14, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

  15. Slater’s usual response to this sort of thing is that he will clean up in Court and everyone will be stunned, humiliated and embarrassed by his defences which will reveal the truth about what really happened etc. We are all still waiting for that day to arrive. A cynic might suggest it never will.

    Comment by Nick R — June 14, 2016 @ 3:52 pm

  16. Psycho Milt wrote:
    Wow, Doug Sellman vs Cameron Slater – one of those fights where you wish it was possible for both sides to lose. Whoever gets the victory, I hope it’s Pyrrhic as all get-out.
    ~~~~~~~~

    Wow, CS really did a good job on Doug Sellman’s reputation. I hope DS screws CS over big time.

    Comment by mjpledger — June 14, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

  17. So basically TL;DR: the Karl Rove/Lynton Crosby propaganda approach really does have its fair share of diminishing returns.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — June 14, 2016 @ 4:24 pm

  18. “You’ve got to give Cameron Slater credit – he is/was an innovator in the media space, creating a new and unique business model I think of as ‘defamation PR’. […..] No one else figured out how to monetise blogging in New Zealand.”

    It wasn’t just the defamation that made it work though, was it? I thought the main reason anyone significant bothered to read WhaleOil was because it was plainly obvious to everyone in the media that he was the main channel for several high level government Ministers to “anonymously” leak their sludge on the populace … which gave him more influential audiences of value to lobbyists like Rich and Graham.

    Does his defamation and general crap-flinging have anywhere near as much effect now that the bulk of those sources have, apparently, dried up?

    Comment by izogi — June 14, 2016 @ 5:06 pm

  19. Fortunately, this is not such a case.

    The plaintiffs are alleging that a publisher and a PR firm colluded. Will a court ruling on how “interactive” a publisher and a PR firm/lobby group can become, have any ramifications for media professionals in general? What happens if the court sides entirely with the plaintiffs?

    Comment by unaha-closp — June 14, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

  20. “Even with extremely robust research findings Sir Richard Doll had to fight and scrap and, even today, tobacco companies deny much of the research relating cigarette exposure to bad outcomes.’

    Yes and it was the”robust” part of his work that allowed his findings to prevail and continue to do so and drive public policy. That’s why tobacco companies went from being very powerful advocates on their own behalf to being possibly the least powerful advocates in any public policy debate in NZ and elsewhere.

    Comment by Tinakori — June 14, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

  21. Anybody know how many people are now currently suing CS? Got a feeling this makes 3 cases but probably some I’ve missed!

    Comment by Joe-90 — June 14, 2016 @ 6:52 pm

  22. “Wow, Doug Sellman vs Cameron Slater – one of those fights where you wish it was possible for both sides to lose. Whoever gets the victory, I hope it’s Pyrrhic as all get-out.”

    Heard a interview with him on RNZ once, he makes the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones seem like a light hearted frivolous kind of guy.

    Comment by Tinakori — June 14, 2016 @ 7:29 pm

  23. I rather enjoy Sellman who comes up with some quite spectacular proclamations and it would be particularly good sport if Crampton could be a witness for Slater and spend a leisurely week in court having a bit of fun with some of the professors claims. Even if Slater lost the compensation for defamation would be a buck 50 on a good day.

    Comment by David — June 14, 2016 @ 7:39 pm

  24. The robustness of Doll’s statistical work eventually prevailed. Statistics can/cannot “prove” anything. That is why the tobacco lobby is still extant (just).

    Doll is the last epidemiologist whose work I respect.

    Science can only disprove. Science cannot rely on statistics, only on replicable experimrntal results.

    Tinakori is correct. There is a lot of spurious nonsense emanating from academics based on flimsy statistical “evidence”. statistics can never be evidence in a scientific setting.

    Medics ought not to give advice based on statistics. Most of them lack the mathematical nous to understand statistics.

    Do you really want to be prescribed a prescription drugs by a medic Because statistics suggest it is ok?

    Public health advisors need to be cautious.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — June 14, 2016 @ 9:02 pm

  25. NZ is truly astonishing, watching the defence of Slater here is further proof how fucked up New Zealanders have become after thirty years of neoliberalism.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 15, 2016 @ 6:40 am

  26. …watching the defence of Slater here is further proof how fucked up New Zealanders have become after thirty years of neoliberalism.

    I suspect that peterlesillyoldcunt has always been that way.

    Comment by Joe W — June 15, 2016 @ 9:47 am

  27. “Medics ought not to give advice based on statistics….”

    Blimey.

    Comment by Dr Foster — June 15, 2016 @ 10:41 am

  28. “Medics ought not to give advice based on statistics”

    So, if epidemiology is out, how then should decisions about public health and medical treatment be made ?

    Comment by Corokia — June 15, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

  29. statistics can never be evidence in a scientific setting.

    I’ve got bad news for you – statistics is the ONLY evidence there is because the entire universe in every detail is governed entirely by the statistical likelihood of combined chance events.
    That’s what we’ve learnt from quantum physics – at it’s very base reality is a bubble of chance occurrences and what we think are hard and fast rules are just the most likely outcomes.

    Even the laws of thermodynamics. That things tend to entropy is an observation that chance tends that way, and that’s statistics.

    Comment by Fentex — June 15, 2016 @ 1:29 pm

  30. “So, if epidemiology is out, how then should decisions about public health and medical treatment be made ?”

    ‘I reckons’ seems to be a particularly popular method.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 16, 2016 @ 7:38 am

  31. #24
    “Doll is the last epidemiologist whose work I respect”

    Are you serious? How about the work of Prof Ed Mitchell and the New Zealand Cot Death Group. Their work ( based on statistics I would add) has saved the lives on may thousands of babies world-wide and is the basis of safe-sleep campaigns in many countries. I would think that is worthy of respect!

    “Do you really want to be prescribed a prescription drugs by a medic Because statistics suggest it is ok?”

    Well…yes I do. I am a medic. I prescribe various potentially toxic drugs to babies and children. I do so with evidence of benefit vs harm, usually from controlled trials and always with some form of statistics. How would you prefer me to do it?

    Comment by Phil Moore — June 16, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

  32. Beware of who peddles the stats.
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off

    Comment by Clunking Fist — June 17, 2016 @ 6:16 pm


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