The large number of transcripts and transcript pages in DATTA presented a rather daunting challenge for applying research to this dataset. The first step in carrying out our research programme was to identify topics for analysis, and to recruit small teams of researchers to lead studies in those topical areas. A few of the topics on the original list were dropped early on, because the DATTA transcripts provided minimal coverage of those areas. Ultimately research teams covering the following topics conducted research on DATTA transcripts:
- Health consequences of tobacco use
- Health consequences of exposure to second‐hand smoke
- Addiction and pharmacology
- Tobacco advertising and promotion
- Tobacco‐product design and manufacture
- Economic impact of tobacco use
- Youth initiation of tobacco use
- Tobacco control policies and policy research
- Public understanding of the risks of tobacco use and exposure to second‐hand smoke
- Tobacco industry attacks on (or harassment of) people—plaintiffs and their families and friends, and scientists
- Tobacco industry attacks on research methods and the science of epidemiology
- Other tobacco industry activities (for example, lobbying, public relations activity, political action, research, philanthropy).
Research assistants working in the DATTA project office processed each transcript by preparing an abstract summarising the testimony, indexing standardised information about the testimony (“metadata”), and coding any portions of text that corresponded to the research topics listed above. Coding of text according to research topic was guided by a detailed document describing the scope of each topic. The metadata included the following: title of the transcript; witness's name; document type (deposition, trial testimony, or opening or closing statement); document length and page range for the relevant testimony in the transcript; date of testimony; name of case (lawsuit); type of witness (fact or expert witness); witness's affiliation (testifying for the plaintiff or defendant); witness's employer and title; subjects covered; persons, organisations, and tobacco‐product brands mentioned; and the research topics covered (from those listed above), along with corresponding transcript page numbers. Where possible, indexing fields and terms were consistent with the fields endorsed by the UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) Tobacco Control Digital Archive9
and the subject terms (keywords) used in the UCSF/ANRF (Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation) Tobacco Documents Thesaurus.10
Each research team member received one or more CD‐ROMs containing all DATTA transcripts that had text coded for the topic assigned to his or her team. The CDs also contained a file for each transcript with the indexing data for that transcript. The project gave each researcher a copy of winMAX 98 Pro software for qualitative data analysis (Scolari Sage Publications, Inc). Although some research teams used this software and others did not, the expectation was that all of the teams would apply qualitative research methods to their studies.
The researchers were asked to attend one of three planning meetings held in June and October of 2003. For the most part, members of a given research team attended the same meeting. These planning meetings were used to discuss common approaches to the study of DATTA transcripts across research teams, and to explore ideas for the analyses to be conducted by each research team.
In order to foster a common approach among the research teams, project leaders encouraged the teams to address one or more of the following research questions:
- What are the major themes or arguments emanating from tobacco industry‐affiliated witnesses or lawyers in this topical area during the course of litigation testimony?
- How do these themes and arguments compare to scientific facts (for example, conclusions of the US Surgeon General and other authorities)?
- How do these themes and arguments compare to what the industry says to the public (via tobacco company websites, press releases, informational advertising, etc)?
- How do these themes and arguments compare to what the industry says in its internal (previously secret) documents?
- Have these themes and arguments changed over time—for example, before and after new admissions on company websites, or before and after adoption of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA)? (The MSA between the tobacco companies and 46 attorneys general, which was signed in November 1998, prohibits any “material misrepresentation of the facts regarding the health consequences of using any tobacco product”.)
- Do these themes and arguments vary according to geography (where the case has been filed)?
- Are different themes, arguments, and strategies used in depositions versus at trial?
- Do these themes and arguments vary in short versus long trials? Which ones rise to the surface when time is limited?
The amount of text in DATTA transcripts that was coded as pertaining to a particular topic (and research team) was, in many cases, enormous. As a result, the research teams—in discussions during and after the planning meetings—explored strategies for narrowing the scope of their investigations. Different teams adopted different strategies for making their analyses feasible in light of time and resource constraints. One team, for example, focused on a specific type of litigation (for example, personal injury cases brought on behalf of individual plaintiffs). Other teams restricted their analyses to a small number of important witnesses. To aid those teams, members of the DATTA Project Advisory Committee who have had experience in tobacco litigation identified key tobacco industry witnesses whose testimony might warrant special study.
Some research teams decided to confine their research to trial transcripts, thereby excluding depositions. One reason for that preference is that defendants' arguments in trial testimony are clearly meant for juries and judges, whereas industry arguments in depositions may serve other purposes (for example, to explore the opinions of the plaintiff's expert witnesses—for possible use within, or even outside, the current case). Other research teams constricted their “dataset” even further by studying only the opening and/or closing statements presented at trial. Another practical approach was to define and pursue a research question that was much more narrow than (but still within) the overall topic assigned to the research team. The specific methodologic approaches used by the various research teams are described in other articles in this journal supplement.
On 1 June 2004, the DATTA project and the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law co‐hosted a symposium at which DATTA research teams presented their preliminary findings. The symposium was held in San Diego just before an NCI Tobacco Control Investigators Meeting. This event gave the DATTA researchers the opportunity to exchange information about the challenges, methods, and results of their research. A project listserve allowed for continued communication across research teams and between project leaders and researchers.
During succeeding months, the research teams completed their studies and submitted manuscripts for publication in this journal supplement. A peer‐review process was used to evaluate those papers, and decisions on acceptance of the papers were made by the guest editor of the supplement, Stella Aguinaga Bailous.