CokeSpeak: "A sophisticated form of language, containing half-truths dissembled as common sense. Its objective is to deceive the listener, usually for profit".

Denialism and the tactics of S.L.E.A.Z.E.

Denialism and the tactics of S.L.E.A.Z.E.

Denialism and CokespeakAlice was delighted to receive a postcard from Professor Simon Capewell, Chair of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool.

The Professor and many other academics are increasingly agitated by the impact of corporate ‘Denialism’ on public health, airing their concerns in august publications such as the BMJ. (1) Rather bravely, Prof Capewell is also an expert advisor to the recently launched Action on Sugar campaign in the UK, whose primary goal is to reduce the amounts of added sugar in processed foods.

It is apparently very difficult for manufacturers to reduce the amount of sugar they add to processed foods. Alice is always confused by this, believing that sugar content can be reduced simply by putting less sugar in. Nevertheless, she supposes that this is because the food companies are much cleverer than she is.

Capewell takes a detailed look at corporate denial in all its different forms, and with his permission, here is what he says:

Hi Alice,

I LOVE your website messages!

I expect you know that there is quite an extensive scientific literature on DENIALISM, which backs up your key messages. One useful way into that literature is :

Martin McKee’s article in the BMJ, and our addition: S Capewell & A Capewell. Denialism in public health: Beware SLEAZE tactics. BMJ 2011; 342: d287 . PMID: 21248003. We commend Martin McKee and Pascal Diethelm’s excellent article.

We have found the following mnemonic useful to identify and remember six key features of denialism. Tobacco and processed food companies typically deny scientific evidence of harm by using SLEAZE tactics:

  • S – Scientific conspiracies are alleged (rather than admitting this is a solid scientific consensus);
  • L – Logical flaws in their arguments (but which may initially sound plausible);
  • E – Evidence severely selected to suit their case, (all conflicting facts ignored);
  • A – Absolute perfection demanded of the public health advocates, (eg “why is there no RCT for passive smoking and cancer?”);
  • Z – Zany arguments. Distractions, to take attention away from the main issue, (and also use up limited public health resources to refute);
  • E – Experts bought by the rich industries, to undermine good science, or publish conveniently contradictory findings. (Google can supply a rogues gallery).

hope that is useful, Best Wishes

Simon Capewell

Alice says: A brilliant ‘ready-reckoner’ for cokespeak hounds everywhere, this deserves inclusion in the next release of my CokeSpeak mindmap.

(1) – S Capewell & A Capewell. Denialism in public health: Beware SLEAZE tactics. BMJ 2011; 342: d287 . PMID: 21248003.

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