Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Challenging Dogma (Post #5): Anyone who Questions the Party Line is A Discredit to the Tobacco Control Movement

Over the past few months, it has become clear to me that part of the dogma of the anti-smoking movement is that the movement is always correct and that any questioning of the movement's positions or of the organizations that make up the movement is basically "heresy" and is not to be tolerated.

Interestingly, and disturbingly, I have found out that the approach to dealing with such dissent is not to argue the point at hand and try to provide evidence that the arguments I have presented are wrong, but instead, to attack the dissenter and to try to malign his objectives, his character, and the effect of his dissenting opinion.

Here are some typical examples of the response of the anti-smoking community to my daring to challenge some of the "orthodoxy," and my commentary on these responses:

1. "I ask you to cease your behavior immediately. You are discrediting the whole tobacco control movement and creating great PR grist for the tobacco companies. Your blog is playing right in to the hands of the tobacco industry. I suggest that you take a month off until the dust settles."

Here, instead of attempting to argue why my opinion is wrong, the anti-smoking advocate has attacked me personally. The logic here is that because I have an opinion that differs from that of the tobacco control "establishment," I am ipso facto discrediting the whole tobacco control movement. In addition, the concern expressed here is not that I am wrong in my opinions, but that by expressing them, it might somehow help the tobacco companies. And finally, the public request being made is censorship. Because the advocate apparently does not like my views (it is apparently immaterial whether he or she agrees with them or not), I must be censored and therefore must stop expressing my views, at least for one month. This is outright censorship at its very worst.

2. "Since this blog exposes cases of hypocrisy by public health advocates, its important to point out that someone who rails against the most effective smoking reduction intervention is hypocritical for calling himself a public health advocate."

The reasoning here is that if you oppose any particular opinion of the anti-smoking establishment, then you are, by definition, no longer a public health advocate. The comment basically represents my "ex-communication" from the anti-smoking movement. It demonstrates that there is no room for dissent. You dissent - and boom - you're no longer considered to be a part of the movement. In this way, the movement can maintain its unanimity of opinion.

3. "I think that you have completely gone off the deep end on this. Your behavior has consistently acted to compromise the DOJs case and efforts to get meaningful remedies, as well as the good work by many people to protect it."

Here, the attack is not on my opinions or the suggestion that perhaps they are wrong, but instead, on my behavior. But the only behavior that I conducted was to express my opinion about the merit of the proposed remedies in the DOJ case and the reasons for the government's change in its remedies request. In this way, the anti-smoking advocate has conflated my opinions with behavior. Expressing one's dissenting opinion, by his or her reasoning, is in fact, inappropriate behavior.

4. "Like I have said a bunch of times ... you seem ready to accept the most outrageous claims of people and organizations like Mike McFadden, Gian Turci and FORCES while assuming the worst of almost anyone you perceive to be part of the "tobacco control movement" -- be it ANR or TFK. And I'm sorry, but I have to ask -- towards what end? It's fair enough to debate the strategies and tactics of people and organizations, but when you look at the people who are gobbling this up you might want to think about taking a long, deep look in the mirror and asking yourself what useful, public health purpose this forum serves."

After long and serious contemplation about this comment, I realized that it really demonstrates the dogma of the movement. If you disagree with the "orthodoxy," you are a discredit to the movement and cannot possibly be working toward any good end. To what good end could one possibly be contributing to be questioning the party line?

And even more disturbing, the concern here is not that my opinions might be wrong (no argument is made that anything I have said is wrong). Instead, the concern is that my opinions sometimes do, in some way, coincide with those of Mike McFadden, Gian Turci, and FORCES. This is exactly the mindset I observed when I served on the ANR Board. You cannot ever dare to have any agreement whatsoever with the evil "enemy," even if it is a well-researched, well-argued, and sincerely-held opinion.

In fact, the commenter agrees that it is appropriate for me to be questioning the strategies and tactics of organizations that I feel are unethical or inappropriate. However, doing so apparently hurts the "public health purpose." In other words, the truth hurts, so let's not go there.

But perhaps most disturbing of all is the assertion that because of the nature of the people reading these comments (those who are "gobbling" it up), it somehow changes the merit of the arguments in such a way that it no longer serves a useful public health purpose. But why should the nature of the readers dictate the value of these comments? They either are or are not of merit - their merit does not depend on what this particular commenter happens to think of the people who are reading these comments.

5. "This constant bashing of basically good, caring and responsible organizations is irrational and reprehensible."

Here, again, the rationale is that it is reprehensible to criticize an organization that is doing good things. Because the anti-smoking groups are basically good and caring organizations, there should be no criticism of these groups and any such criticism is reprehensible, and will not be tolerated. This is censorship. This is suppression of free speech. This is apparently the dogma of the tobacco control movement.

6. "You insist on picking on Campaign [for Tobacco-Free Kids]."
"You have something against Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids."
"Your disdain for Tobacco Free Kids..."

These comments (made by 3 different individuals) reveal that any criticism of the anti-smoking establishment is, indeed, viewed as "heresy." Here, what is apparently wrong is not the arguments that I made, but rather, the very fact that I dared to criticize the establishment. The ethical concerns that I have expressed cannot possibly be viewed as legitimate ethical concerns. Instead, it must be the case that I am simply picking on these organizations because for some reason I don't like them.

There's no need for me to defend myself, to explain to readers how difficult it is for me to criticize organizations with which I have worked closely for much of my career, organizations at which many of my good friends and colleagues for years and years are employed, and how much courage I have to summon up every day to speak out for what I believe to be right even though it is critical of many of the groups with which I have worked for the better part of (or in some cases, my entire) career, and knowing that I am going to get personally attacked for daring to express my opinion.

Frankly, if I indeed had a grudge against all the organizations I have criticized on this blog, why would I have been a dedicated and committed tobacco control practitioner, working with all of these organizations, for more than 21 years? I have, in fact, been critical of myself at times on this blog. Does that mean that I have a grudge against myself? I guess I must hate myself since I've been critical of some things I have done.

Here again, the truth hurts. It cannot possibly be the case that the establishment has done anything wrong. So rather than seriously consider the allegations or ponder for a moment the possibility that a good-natured, noble-intended anti-smoking organization could have perhaps done something wrong, my comments must be immediately dismissed outright because I must have a personal grudge against these organizations.

Look - I understand why these ethical concerns are so hard for anti-smoking advocates to take. It does hurt to ponder the fact that maybe, just maybe, some of the things we are doing are wrong. And therefore, it is hard to accept that the criticism is being made. And the immediate reaction is to attack the dissenter and question his motives, rather than to critically analyze the allegations and consider whether or not the dissenter is correct or not. So I understand why this seems to be the response.

However, the sum total of all these individual responses is that the movement as a whole, as I have learned, simply cannot and will not tolerate dissent.

I am sorry that my criticism of public health organizations for what I believe to be unethical, irresponsible, or inappropriate behavior is viewed by anti-smoking advocates as being "heretical," reprehensible, a discredit to the whole movement, inconsistent with being a public health advocate, off the deep end, and towards no possible useful public health purpose.

But you know what - I think there is a critical public health purpose to which the commentary on this blog may be contributing - and that is, to the restoration of ethics and integrity in the tobacco control movement.

I'll be honest - I believe that because of the degradation of the movement because of the inappropriate actions of its leading organizations, the entire credibility of the movement is threatened. The only way I can see salvaging the movement is to reform it - to restore ethics and integrity to it. If this blog can play even a small role in that, then it will have indeed served a useful public health purpose. Because it is only through the restoration of the credibility of, and appropriate leadership in the tobacco control movement that we will be successful in continuing to reduce the burden of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in this country.


Soren said...

I am sure James E. Enstrom and Dr. Brad Rodu can tell you all about what you are experiencing. With your title I am sure they would be willing to share their experiences with you.

A the cigar smoking titan Winston S. Churchill once said:

"Learn to get used to it. Eels get used to skinning"

Michael J. McFadden said...

Dr. Siegel, the courage and integrity you've shown in being willing to question at least some of the motivations and methods of those you've worked closely and well with over the years is something many of them will never understand.

We all grow in life and those with the ability for self-examination and evaluation sometimes look back and say "Gee, I was kind of off in some of my opinions/actions in the past. I still hold to my core beliefs, but now I understand that some things are a bit more complicated than I thought and maybe need more sophisticated approaches."

30 years ago I believed strongly in using Antismoking methodology to attack the auto-addicted American car culture. Instead of smoking bans to save lives, I worked with people to get speed bumps on roads, disruptive traffic signals, traffic-fouling play streets, and increased gas taxes. I wrote a magazine article, later reprinted in a college text, that used the same sort of misleadingly emotive language, sloppy statistics, and "If it's been said by someone, it's a fact, and I can quote it." sort of argumentation to support my case against auto-centered transit that the Antismokers use to support their case against smoking.

I’ve grown. I’ve learned. I’m still a dedicated cyclist who’s never driven a car and usually rides in them with still at least some amount of grudge, but I no longer feel morally superior to those who drive, no longer feel it’s my place to carp at them for the life decisions they’ve made that “force” them to drive, and no longer feel I have the right to covertly socially engineer them out of driving… even though they clearly, and *completely* inarguably severely threaten my life every day with their body mangling death machines. (seeee…. I kin still “talk the talk.” )

You are still in my view an “Antismoker.” But… you are an honest Antismoker and one who does not wish to push your views on others at their expense. You no longer see yourself as a God whose word must be made flesh by virtue of the power of the media microphone. You’ve grown in a way that many of your colleagues seem constitutionally incapable of, and I’m sure you’ve done it while knowing the price you’re going to pay.

Not only have you lost friendships over this that will probably never be repaired, you’ve laid your professional life and livelihood on the line for your beliefs. Your chances of getting a grant from CTFK or Robert Wood Johnson, or ANR or ANRF in the future are probably slim to none… no matter how valid a study you may design. If your mortgage runs out and someday RJR offers you $10,000 to testify in a court case about your opinions on the DOJ hearing you’ll be branded as a “paid Big Tobacco Mouthpiece” by the very people who walk off routinely chuckling with hundreds of thousands of smokers’ tax dollars lining their pockets and paying their mortgages.

You’ve got guts Mike, and even though we probably still disagree on a number of points relating to tobacco control, I admire you. Keep fightin!

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

Anonymous said...

Both Michaels- Bravo, Well Said, Well Done. My favorite motto - Please Stop Legislating My Behavior. I appreciate both of you as you are. Just thought you needed to "hear" that from one who has fought the anti (in the negative sense) all of my life. I appreciate any who will "walk the talk". Thank you for "listening"!!
Capri Lione
Madison, WI

Anonymous said...

Michael -- I'm afraid that this very long-winded post points to exactly the kind of problem that some of us have been trying (unsuccessfully) to point out. I am sure you like to think of yourself as some lone voice in the wilderness, speaking truth to power. I would guess that you believe you should be thanked for trying to keeping alive the truth, rather than showered with abuse, right?

You ask people to base their critiques of this blog on "facts". On the face of it this is a very reasonable thing to ask. But much of what is on here is your opinion (how this group slanted a certain press release, how another group called another organization an "ally" of the industry). You do a lot of hair-splitting. You should not be upset if it is done back to you.

There is something very curious indeed about your crying "censorship" on *your* blog. Censorship implies someone has the power to get you to cease and desist. You are always challenging other people on what you see as their hyperbole -- a little humiltiy and dose of your own medicine would be more than appropriate. Re-read this post -- what are we supposed to think when you post comments like: "There's no need for me to defend myself, to explain to readers...how much courage I have to summon up every day to speak out for what I believe to be right". Courage? Typing at a computer and posting it on your own personal blog? That takes courage? "Excommunication"? And that the movement "simply cannot and will not tolerate dissent." Please. The tone of victimization is really too much. Think about what you are saying -- because some people respond negatively to what you post on your own personal blog, you are suddenly the victim of censorship? I'm sure people who risk their lives every day for speaking the truth would be fascinated to know that you are just like them. Sorry Michael, but you seem to enjoy pointing out when public health groups exaggerate so it's only fair play that you look at yourself and do the same.

Michael Siegel said...

Actually, Anonymous, I'm understating the case here.

The degree of censorship I have faced is far worse than anything I have posted on this blog.

The threats to my career have also been far worse than anything than I have posted here.

Your characterization that "some people have responded negatively" to what I have posted is an incredible understatement of the truth.

What I find interesting is that you feel you are in a position to comment on the response to my blog, when you are not in a position to really have any idea of the response I have received. Do you receive all my emails? Are you aware of the letters that have been written to the Dean of my School and to other Deans of School of Public Health about me because of the opinions I have expressed? Do you want to recount for my readers the false and defamatory statement that was made about me to my Dean and that was circulated publicly? You have no idea, so I don't think you're in any position to comment on it.

Anyway, suffice it to say - what I have posted here is a rather extreme understatement of the true situation. And every aspect of what I've written.

norbert hirschhorn said...

The discussion reminds me, painfully, of the calumny those Jews who attack Israeli policies suffer from fellow Jews. Our criticism is motivated by what we believe is best for Israel, not self-hatred. That it gives comfort to avowed anti-semites is painful but irrelevant.

In the same light, we must listen to what Michael has to say about what he believes is best for the tobacco-control movement, and debate the merits. He isn't always right, but let us recall Voltaire's original manifesto: "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write."

roxxon said...

Kudos To Michael!
Many people admire him for his honesty and integrity.

Big anti-tobacco is a big business.

The anti-smoking hysterics always show their true colors, eventually.
Anything that is said that can possibly undermine their precious,
smoke-free planet agenda is met with scorn and ridicule.

Most of the anti-smoking professionals for are
control-freaks to the core.

Sadly the truth is not on their side.
The smoke-free "snake oil pitchmen"
make "big tobacco" seem like honest citizens by comparison.

The anti-smoking liars spew vastly exaggerated, hate-propaganda.
Most of it is completely untrue.
Their so-called facts, figures and statistics are contrived and altered and have little validity, if any at all.

The current war on smoking and smokers is a hate-campaign, pure and simple.
The intended goal of the antis is to shame, goad and guilt smokers into smoke-free submission at all costs.

Using the specious second-hand smoke sham as a means forward their social engineering experiments and to impose their smoke-free wills upon everyone, by hook or by crook...

The fact that anyone who does not tow the radical and untruthful anti-smoking party-line is considered a "henchman" or in the employ of the tobacco industry, speaks volumes about how flimsy the anti-smoking movement's "house of cards" precariously is swaying in the wind.

The ETS "kills and maims" hoax is one of the greatest unscientific frauds in the history of mankind.
Without it, the antis would have no basis to lobby politically correct governments to impose smoking bans under the fraudulent guise of health.

As I predicted close to 10 years ago, tobacco smoking bans would not end with the introduction of government smoking restrictions within indoor public places, workplaces and the private hospitality sector.

Now outdoor smoking bans are next on the anti's agenda.
A prime example of; "Give the anti-smokers an inch and they will take more than a mile."

Even the most hardcore antis promised that indoor smoking bans would be their final goal.
Once everyone was "protected" from second-hand smoke indoors, they would be happy.
Once again, they were lying through their teeth.

Now the push is on for outdoor smoking bans.
Which like indoor smoking bans, protect the health of no one.
The next question is, when will the antis be happy?
As long as tobacco remains a legal product, how can they be?

The anti-tobacco extremists are nothing more than childish, intolerant bullies.
Much like spoiled children who throw a temper tantrum when they don't get their selfish ways.

No lie is too large for the
anti-smoking lobby and their slobbering minions ingest every bit of their untruthful, hysterical B.S. like a starving animal would lap up a jar of peanut butter.

It is truly sickening that this world has come to this sort of intolerant health elitist mindset.
What ever happend to the,
"Live and let live" credo?

Boozers and the obsese are next up I guess.

Sooner or later someone will say,
"Enough is enough."

Deirdre Imershein said...

I not only agree with Michael, I have experienced what he is talking about. If you dare to have another approach than the one the herd has agreed upon, even if it is backed with facts, stats and reason, even if the other approach has not and will not owrked and has cost millions, then your view and your work is outcast. I find the fear that other colleagues operate under and therefore do not stand up to the herd mentality to be a response to a sort of McCarthyism. Thanks goodness for your blog, because tobacco control is and must change. Its like being called anti American for objecting to the war. We tobacco control advocates that disagree with the majority do not wish to obliterate tobacco control, we wish to improve it. Attacking those with other ideas is the worst sort of bullying and narrrow mindedness. All the colleagues who quietly approach me and say "We agree with your approach but we are really tied up in this other way of doing things" (in my case supporting an R rating for smoking in film rather than trying to change labor codes on movie sets) have started to lose my sympathy, because at some point someone like yourself has to stand up and say the emerporer has no clothes on, and demand more from ourselves. Or as Chekov said "You live badly my friends, it is a shame to live so badly".

Anonymous said...

I posted a note here last night questioning Michael's use of the term "censorship". I did not use any profanity. The post was deleted. Of course he has a right to do this but it does make this exchange rather one-sided. Basically if you do not buy the argument that he is being vitimized you will be deleted.

Yet somehow statements such as: "The anti-smoking liars spew vastly exaggerated, hate-propaganda. Most of it is completely untrue. Their so-called facts, figures and statistics are contrived and altered and have little validity, if any at all." and "No lie is too large for the
anti-smoking lobby and their slobbering minions ingest every bit of their untruthful, hysterical B.S. like a starving animal would lap up a jar of peanut butter." seem to be OK.

Makes you wonder what is going on here.

Anonymous said...

What is going on here is that you antis are engaged in a campaign of persecution because Michael is simply trying to tell the truth, and that truth makes you uncomfortable. Why don't you crawl back under the rock you came out from under? You are all closet fascists. And while you're at it go set up your own blog and stop whining like a little baby.

Michael Siegel said...

Just as a note of explanation, I try not to delete any comments if at all possible in order to encourage as much discussion of the issues as possible.

However, there are 2 situations in which I feel a need to delete comments.

One is in the case of abusive personal attacks against another individual, especially where such attacks use foul or otherwise inappropriate language for a public web site.

The second is when I feel the comment is simply not relevant to the post at hand.

I have never deleted a comment because I don't agree with the stated views of the commenter.

In the case of Anonymous' comment last night, I felt that the comment was not at all relevant to this post since it was basically a rant about the situation in East Timor and other countries with similar situations. That's definitely an important issue (and I have myself had some involvement in that issue), but this post was just not about the situation in East Timor.

Those are the two rules, and I think they are pretty simple and easy to follow.

One reason why I will be reluctant to delete posts that make broad characterizations about groups of people (like "the anti-smoking lobby") is that they are broad and do not attack a particular individual. What I need to guard against is potentially defamatory comments against an individual, which generally means that the comment will be an attack on an identified individual.

All I can do is use my best judgment. As I said, I'm erring on the side of trying not to have to delete anything.

It would certainly be easier if commenters tried their best to be as unabusive as possible. Thanks everyone for your cooperation.

Anonymous said...

The post was certainly not about East Timor -- I was simply using that as an example of a place where where real censorship has occurred -- people criticizing you for what you post on your own blog is NOT censorship, no matter how you slice it. And I was pointing out that your sense of being victimized was wholly out of proportion with what is really going on -- you have not lost your job and you can post whatever you like. To paint yourself as some tireless campaigner for free speech is entirely disengenuous.

Michael Siegel said...

To censor means "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable." Thus, when prominent anti-smoking activists and leaders examine what I have written and attempt to suppress it by trying to get me to discontinue writing, by directly asking me to stop writing, by going directly to my boss (the Dean of my School), and/or by threatening a lawsuit against me, that is most clearly a form of censorship.

And that is, I'm afraid, real censorship.

I never claimed to be a tireless campaigner for free speech or to be in a situation equivalent to that in East Timor. I think you are the one doing the exaggerating in your public misrepresentation of what I have written.

At any rate, I once again suggest to you that you are not in a position to comment on what has been done to me, since you have no idea. You can't possibly comment on whether what I have written is out of proportion to what I have experienced because you actually have no idea what I have suffered as a result of expressing the opinions that I have.

I'll ask you again - have you read all the emails I have received, have you reviewed all the communications sent to the Dean of my School and other Deans of Schools of public health. I don't think so. So I don't think you can credibly comment on what is "really going on." You simply have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Michael - they have a term for this. It's called "persecution complex". Someone as intelligent as you *should* be able to step back and look at how absurd this has become. Like I asked before (and got deleted):

Have you been prevented from posting your views on this blog?

Have you lost your job becaue of what you have written?

If the answer to those is no then I'm afraid it is not censorhip -- it may not be pretty and you may not like it and it may be rude at times but it is definitely not censorship.

And really, you won't hear from me again on this particualr subject.

Anonymous said...

Michael wrote: "I'll ask you again - have you read all the emails I have received, have you reviewed all the communications sent to the Dean of my School and other Deans of Schools of public health."

No, so let's see them! You have a blog -- publish them!

Michael Siegel said...

You're certainly entitled to define censorship however you like and I won't argue with your very narrow definition.

However, there are broader definitions of the term and one of them is "the suppression of free speech."

It is this definition, not your narrower one (in which a communication actually has to be prevented from occurring), which I am using in this post.

There is no question, I think, that the kinds of things I have experienced and written about on the blog are an attempt to suppress free speech. So in that sense, they are censorship.

Again, you're entitled to your own definition of censorship and I won't challenge you on it, but I also won't let you impose your definition on me.

This is a very general term - it is not a strict legal term - so I think there is some room for how the term can be interpreted.

Michael Siegel said...

Sorry I hadn't seen that comment. I have deleted it. I have no way of screening the comments before they are posted. People need to try to be somewhat respectful.