Monthly Archives: December 2010

Extremists’ use of terminology to bully e-cig community

One more thought about the new UC Riverside extremist-propaganda-pretending-to-be-a-scientific study.  We have already written about the main substance of it, as has almost everyone who writes about the topic.  But one point that seems to have been overlooked is the use of pseudo-scientific jargon as a schoolyard bullying tactic. 
The authors of that pseudo-study and others in the anti-tobacco extremist community have decided to start calling e-cigarettes Electronic Nicotine Delivery Devices (ENDS).   There are several legitimate good reasons why it is useful to invent a neologism for scientific or other purposes.  Pretty much all of those involve cases where there is not already a word for the category of objects/concepts/whatever you are trying to describe.  The most obvious need is when there is simply no natural word for a category.  For example, it is useful to have a collected term for smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, and other extracted nicotine products.  I tend to use “low-risk nicotine products”, but there is not a settled term since others prefer to “smokeless” and “smoke-free” nicotine products.  I prefer “low-risk” because it explicitly captures the reason for creating the category, but smokeless is certainly accurate and effective.  (Some people insist that there is some difference between smokeless and smoke-free, though the distinction escapes me.)
In other cases, a neologism is needed because the present term does properly describe a category.  For example, “anti-tobacco extremists” is a created term (by us at that was needed to avoid the absurd use of “public health” to describe a political faction that is primarily or exclusively committed to the elimination of all tobacco (and now e-cigarettes) per se, regardless of the public health implications, and indeed is doing substantial damage to true public health in pursuit of that end.  The term that was being used included a broad group of unrelated people, so a new term was useful for specificity alone, but more important the extremists were no longer part of the true public health community, and using “public health” as a shorthand for them was insulting to public health and gave the extremists credit that they do not deserve (but take advantage of to fool the public).
But there is no need to create a new term that includes exactly the same category of items that is already covered under “e-cigarettes” (which most everyone uses for all such products, including those with variant shape that make them look cigars, pipes, or marker pens rather than cigarettes).  And if for some reason an author does not like the preferred standard term, a second established term is “personal vaporizers”, which is wonky enough to appeal to those who think that e-cig is far too plebian for them to use.  No term is needed.  It is not as if there are other devices other than e-cigarettes that they are trying to capture in their category, or things that are called e-cigarettes that they are trying to exclude, and thus actually need a different word.
Why did they invent a new term, then?  For the same reason that George Bush created nicknames for most everyone he knew, or that schoolyard bullies or fraternity leaders do the same:  To try to assert power over people by denying them that most basic right of choosing their own label (or choosing to keep using the one that someone else chose ages before).  Evolved nicknames are typically friendly; forcibly assigned nicknames are psychologically violent.
Perhaps the present case is not quite so bad as individual bullying since the “them” in question is an “it”; the e-cigarettes themselves will not mind.   But anti-tobacco extremists are trying to assert ownership of discourse about e-cigarettes by relabeling them, which is damaging and inappropriate at many levels.  Moreover, there is still an attempt at inter-personal bullying here since there is a large established community of real people who are active aficionados of, advocates for, merchants and makers of, and even researchers of e-cigarettes.  It is this group that owns the terms and concepts.  For the extremists to intentionally ignore that they (we) have an established term is a way for them to say, “your own view and understanding of your own practice is of no more consequence than the self-perception of infectious disease agents, criminals, insect pests, or terrorists; we will study and write about you without even considering that you are anything other than something that needs to be controlled.”  Even for those who might not have that view (though I would guess that it predominates), the most charitable interpretation is, “you are like young children, pets, or (from an unenlightened era when most researchers acted like those who write for Tobacco Control) savages — “we do not wish you dead, but we certainly are not going to consider your views to be of any interest.”
Of course, since the extremists have made clear that something in this range is their attitude toward smokers and anyone who supplies or defends them, there is really no reason to be surprised that they have taken this attitude toward vapers (another word I suspect they will not use).  But though not surprising, it is is worth noting:  We should avoid becoming so used to this behavior that we start to think that it is reasonable.  It tells us a lot that these people – in contrast with real public health advocates – show no apparent compassion or respect for those they pretend to be trying to help.

There are no analog cigarettes (or digital ones)

I have been a bit busy and have missed some good blog topics.  Maybe I will get back to those after I finish on major project, but I will ease myself back with a quick post about a pet peeve:  The word “analog” (used in the context of technology) does not mean “non-computerized” or simply “old technology”.

[Of course, that’s “analogue” to my readers in the UK and you others who have decided to not throw off the yoke of monarchy — I’m talkin’ to you, Canada.]

I realize that this complaint/recommendation borders on Academie Francaise-style attempt to resist the evolution of language.  But this one reflects deep and potentially harmful ignorance.  Analog computing, data storage, or input/output refers to technologies where values are represented by something that varies continuously in a way that is analogous(!) to the value it is representing.  Digital refers to methods where the information is represented by discontinuous markers that arbitrarily represent particular real values.  The simplest example is that a readout that has a dial (clock with hands, car speedometer with a turning needle) is analog, because the position of the dial is analogous the the value of time or speed.  A readout with digits(!) is digital, since they are arbitrary symbols that represent a particular exact value.  An important difference is that if the hands or needle moves a little bit it represents a slightly different value, while if the displayed digits are slightly altered they still mean exactly the same thing.  This has several implications, most notably that slight errors in analog systems can accumulate (because they “count”) while slight errors in digital systems disappear (because when a computer is storing something as either a 1 or a 0 — typical digital storage — and it is off by 5%, it is still treated as the original 1 or 0).

Computers can be either analog or digital.  Low-tech devices can either be analog or digital.  This printed page — whether you are reading it on a screen or you print it out (though I cannot imagine what would possess you to do that) — is digital.  That is not because I am writing it on a computer but because these little squiggles have a fixed arbitrary relationship to particular concepts and slight variations on how they appear  do not change what they represent.  So, a book is digital, as is an old mechanical adding machine. So is a cuneiform table or doing long division with pencil and paper.  But something that does not store, process, or display data is neither analog nor digital in this sense.  This knowledge should be part of basic literacy in this age, thus my peeve about linguistic drift obscuring the knowledge.

This morning I heard a news story about new Barbie dolls that have some kind of web-publishing camera built in.  (The story was about how this was new and scary and will facilitate kiddie porn — I am agnostic about that concern.)  The old Barbie was referred to as “analog”.  Now I will admit that I do not have direct experience with Barbie dolls, but I am pretty sure the old ones did not do any kind of data manipulation, analog or otherwise.  Of course, all dolls are analogs in the sense that they are anthropomorphs — they are analogs of human bodies — another useful sense of the word that will be misunderstood by the next generation if “analog” comes to mean “old”.
Those familiar with my usual area of work will guess that I am particularly annoyed by some aficionados of electronic cigarettes referring to real cigarettes as “analog cigarettes”.  C’mon people, there is nothing analog about them — there is no data involved at all, and they are not even analogs of something like Barbie is.  Indeed, e-cigs can be considered digital only by really stretching the term; they are digital only in the same sense that a lamp is — the switch is either on or off, digital values.  Actually, it is the somewhat higher-tech lights — those with a dimmer knob — that are analog!
Of course, language precision suggests the new devices be called electric cigarettes, since a heating element and simple switch does not make the cut for being electronic, usually reserved for actual computation or data storage (we say “electric stove” not “electronic stove”, and an e-cig differs from a hotplate primarily only in its miniaturization and non-electric accoutrement).  But that one does not seem too harmful.  Confounding the concepts of analog and digital, though, does not seem healthy for a population that is trying not to fall too far behind in its command of 21st century technology.