DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant)
Previous analyses of released tobacco industry documents succeeded in
unearthing certain instances of industry deception and manipulation that
deepened the threat to public health posed by tobacco use. None of these prior
studies, however, sampled documents from the database in any systematic
fashion, nor did they employ theoretically motivated or empirically validated
tools of linguistic science. Thus the pervasiveness of deceptive and
manipulative practices within the document set cannot currently be estimated.
Moreover, subtle discourse strategies of deception and manipulation are most
likely to be revealed only by fine-grained linguistic analyses that compare
across texts. As an illustration, equivocation as a deceptive practice can be
indexed by relative frequency of modifiers and hedges like "sort of,"
"nearly," and "in a manner of speaking." Strategies relating to audience
manipulation can be revealed by comparing use of suasive language ("because,"
"obviously") across messages intended for differing readers. Much of this type
of language analysis can now be accomplished by computerized text analysis.
The overall objective of the proposed study, then, is to treat the tobacco
industry documents as a corpus of language to be analyzed by means of accepted
tools of applied and forensic linguistics and rhetorical analysis. More
specifically the following activities will be undertaken: (1) Create 50 sets
of cross-audience text samples, i.e., similar topics directed toward varying
internal and external audiences; (2) Create 50 sets of cross-draft text
samples, i.e., tracing evolution of key documents from conception to
commentary to distribution; (3) Apply to these text samples selected
linguistic indices of deception and obfuscation, e.g, relative frequency of
agentless passive constructions such as "Nicotine levels were augmented."; (4)
Apply to these text samples selected linguistic indices of audience adaptation
and manipulation, e.g., a commonality index containing terms of cooperation,
inclusion; (5) Identify contrasting patterns of these linguistic markers
across drafts and across audiences; (6) Disseminate findings broadly to the
public health, legal, and applied linguistics communities. It is anticipated
that significant linguistic variation across audiences or across drafts will
reveal language strategies by which information about adverse health effects
of smoking was deceptively expressed to citizen audiences, or by which
responsibility for adverse effects was deflected from the tobacco industry.
These language strategies may persist even in contemporary tobacco industry
statements or in documents of other industries responsible for potential
health risks (e.g., pesticide manufacture). The public health benefits of this
research therefore are to expose such language practices to scrutiny and thus
to guard against future occurrences.
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