Today, the law takes on the scientific method. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
I watched my parents die of
smoking. They were spared cancer. Instead, they
died lingering deaths in old age as their lungs and
circulatory systems broke down.
That's why I read Marcia Barinaga's
Science magazine account of a recent
court case with rising anger. It all began when the
R.J. Reynolds company introduced "Old Joe Camel" in
its cigarette ads. Several studies have shown that
children and teenagers respond to that cuddly
Then, in California, the R.J. Reynolds company
distributed mugs and T-shirts with Old Joe on them.
But they left off the Surgeon General's warning.
For that they were haled into court.
The lawsuit against Reynolds used those studies of
children to prove the warning should go with the
symbol. So Reynolds went after the people who'd
made the studies. They demanded access to their
files. Finally, a Massachusetts appeals court
upheld Reynolds's claim on the files of one Dr.
That was bad news for the scientific community. Our
research files are thorough records of what we've
done. We record our hunches and our untested
hypotheses. We leave a trail of our own thoughts.
We write down our mistakes and their corrections.
Well-kept files are very personal. The published
paper contains only what remains -- only what we're
sure of. That paper should be verifiable by anyone
who wants to rerun the study.
So far, DiFranza has managed to protect the names
of the children he interviewed. But, according to
Science magazine, R.J. Reynolds might
be after those names as well.
In the files, Reynolds found notes of DiFranza's
hypothesis that Old Joe Camel makes an impression
on children. Some results in the file didn't
support the hypothesis. Those were results DiFranza
dropped since they weren't statistically
Next, Reynolds gave DiFranza's files to a friendly
newpaper. The paper was very accommodating.
"Study on Old Joe Ads May be Flawed," ran the headlines.
DiFranza answered with cool reason.
Every scientist is biased toward his own
hypothesis. That's why we have to design studies
[that] counter that.
The appeals judge who found against
DiFranza explained himself. He clearly felt badly
about having let Old Joe Camel into the research
files. The California case, he said, let the Reynolds
company "get its nose under the tent."
Why didn't J.R. Reynolds simply rerun DiFranza's
study? It would've cost far less than all those
lawsuits. Reynolds spokesman Peggy Carter puts on a
perfectly straight face and says:
... we don't do research on anyone under 18 ...
because they can't legally purchase the
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of
Houston, where we're interested in the way all kinds
of inventive minds work.