14 January 2022
Alternative causation arguments are used by harmful product manufacturers to present alternative, misleading explanations for product harms in an effort to downplay their risk.
The tobacco industry is well known for this strategy - promoting alternative causes for lung cancer in an effort to cast doubt about the link to smoking.
Real world statements
Led by SPECTRUM researchers, a new study used a novel method to investigate the effects of similar arguments by a range of harmful product manufacturers on the public.
Study participants were provided with real world statements made by industry or industry-funded education charities on the harms associated with fossil fuels, alcohol, tobacco, and sugar sweetened beverages, or a corresponding example from an independent scientific or non-governmental agency.
Respondents, who didn’t know the source of the statements, were then asked about their certainty about the risk of the specific harm from that product.
The results found that exposure to industry sponsored messages significantly increases uncertainty or false certainty about products links with harms. This effect was greatest where respondents self-reported as having less knowledge about the topic beforehand.
This is the first independent assessment of the effectiveness of industry misinformation, with direct comparisons across a range of industries which affect public health.