The tyranny of the majority


The entire framework of those opposed to vaping in its current form isn’t geared to discourse. With every press release, tweet and public speaking event they cloak themselves in the colours of attacking to seek victory, not discover a truth.

And when not holding a popular stance, they will strive to appear as though their opinion is the majority view and thereby demand all others accede to it. When Farsalinos and 52 others wrote to the World Health Organisation in 2014 it was sent with the intention of addressing a collective opinion of the flawed science behind the WHO’s stance. The key points from Stanton Glantz’s rebuttal were that he had 129 names on his letter and they came from 31 countries.

That was more or less it – a reductionist approach to scientific debate relying solely on ‘there are more of us than you’…ignoring the important fact that his bunch of names had contributed nothing by way of accepted peer-reviewed study. He may as well have threatened to get his Dad because he’s bigger than Farsalinos’.

The stories currently circulating about mice, formaldehyde and the gateway effect are nothing more than argumentum ad populum straw men. They aren’t beliefs, they aren’t grounded in science – they are fallacies trotted out with the hope they become popular urban myths with the public and that the received opinion will be trotted out in pubs and workplaces across nations.

Look at the reputations of Ghandi, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Llama (Penn & Teller’s debunking show) and Florence Nightingale (SN.com). Public perception, the will of the majority, is open to manipulation by those who would seek to gain from it – and public health officials in league with pharmaceutical companies are seeking big gains. On that note, I strongly recommend The Missionary Position by Peter Hitchens.

This isn’t a new situation, it’s how decisions that effect our daily actions have always been made – but I sense change. The idea of social media appealed to the vanities of those occupying lofty positions, they signed up to spew their thoughts to the masses without a thought to how the network of individuals operate.

The frustration being experienced by McKee, Chapman and Ashton (being inexperienced at dealing with criticism) has led to frequent ad hominem outbursts. Glantz was moved to scribe an entire letter personally attacking Farsalinos.

Some call for greater action from vapers to combat proposed legislation but, from my perspective, ecig-related networks are already buzzing. The political decision process is similar to that for consumer decision making – needs recognition, information, evaluation and then the decision. Twitter, forums and Facebook open this up to us, the great unwashed. Research is digested and spat out in easy to understand sound bites as fast as it appears in print. We have access to counter-comments and online feedback sections rapidly fill with pro-vaping comments.

In fact, I barely remember seeing a website poll where vapers hadn’t swamped to skew the result. This drip-feeds public opinion, this is the battleground. Glantz is never going to admit to his errors of judgement or the backhanders he takes – but politicians fear the voting masses.

The journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, Social Networking (the go-to source in the field of cyberpsychology) details how a comment section influences audience perception of online articles. Regardless of the level of coherence or abuse, it’s the prevailing feeling from others towards a piece that influences other readers.

Will this see the end to the tyranny of the majority? Unlikely, but we may be about to see some compelling evidence to support Olsen’s conjectures in his The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups.

So continue to ridicule, deconstruct and refute, you mighty activists. It may seem as though many aren’t motivated to join in but maybe this shouldn’t be seen as a full-time thing? As long as those tweets, posts and replies keep racking up we changing opinion one syllable at a time. I may not be in the vanguard of campaigning – but I’m a very interested bystander who’ll chip in with comments now and then.