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Our experiment with talking to vapers on an online e-cigarette forum failed. The forum participants distrusted us so much that we decided not to post our study questions at all.

But we also learned a lot from it. In a reversal of the role we are often in as qualitative researchers, the forum members essentially interviewed us. Via back channel, we talked with several forum members about why they felt burned by researchers.

Vapers’ distrust of researchers points to the hierarchies of credibility at work on each side. Much like vapers who felt burned by public health, public health has been burned by astroturfing and misinformation campaigns. As a result, building credibility on one side can mean losing credibility on the other side.

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