Beyond quagmires: the evolving quality of documents research
- 1Community Health Program, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA
- 2Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
- Correspondence to: Dr Edith D Balbach Community Health Program, Tufts University, 112 Packard Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts, USA;
A decade of tobacco document research has been completed
With 10 years of tobacco documents research (TDR) completed, now is a reasonable time for those of us who conduct TDR to assess its legacy and its potential. In this issue of Tobacco Control, Stacy Carter thoughtfully depicts historical patterns in the conduct and reporting of TDR and how these patterns have evolved.1 She proposes “a process for planning and evaluating TDR that positions the researcher as constructor” rather than merely as a conduit of information contained in the documents, and encourages researchers to be more conscious of the analytic traditions they bring to their searching and analysis strategies. From this platform, we explore the following: What has been the added value of documents research? How can this added value be sustained? And, by what standards should future work be assessed?
WHAT HAS BEEN THE ADDED VALUE OF DOCUMENTS RESEARCH?
TDR has helped us to better understand tobacco industry political and marketing strategies and research and design efforts, among others.2 Carter identified 173 papers that used tobacco documents. Much of this work could certainly have been written without the documents, based instead on observed behaviour. But the documents have added important depth in three ways.
First, the documents confirm what we are able to observe. This confirmation makes it impossible for a Gray Robertson to deny an industry connection,3 or for scientists to deny they have accepted industry money,4 or for politicians to repudiate contact with the tobacco industry.5 They have also given us more insight into cigarette design.6,7
Second, the documents have given us deeper insights into strategy. We can, for example, learn how the industry altered its framing of a political issue8 or how it segmented the population for targeting …