Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Several Tobacco Control Advocates Did Support My Right to Express My Opinions, But Their Advice was Not Heeded

I think that it is important to point out that there were several tobacco control advocates who did speak out publicly in my support and urged their colleagues not to throw me off the list-serve from which I was tossed last week. To them, I am eternally grateful. I will never forget their wisdom and their support.

Here are some excerpts from what they had to say:

"For two decades, Dr. Siegel has provided a major contribution to tobacco control. His blog and recent ... postings continue this tradition. Junk science has permeated the research enterprise in this and many other fields. That the tobacco industry funds bad science does not justify researchers engaging in poor science to promote tobacco control, nor does it justify researchers engaging in poor science to promote their positions. Whether Dr. Siegel's interpretation of a specific line of research is or is not accurate is not the point, although I believe that his position on most issues has been sound both from a scientific and a public health perspective. ... Tobacco control activists and researchers cannot afford to engage in 'groupthink,' a 'mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.' If we become too insular, we will adopt strategies that are non-optimal for achievement of our goals. Moreover, we risk losing credibility, and the moral high ground, with the public and policy makers. Dr. Siegel is performing a vital service for tobacco control and should NOT be censored by the ... community. ... I urge members of ... to support Dr. Siegel's right to continue to participate in our community."

"I agree ... that Dr. Siegel should not be censored. I think we in tobacco control should hold ourselves to a high standard and make sure that any of our claims are justified by good science. Dr. Siegel challenges claims that in his opinion do not appear justified by the science. If people think he's off base or is using an inappropriate tone, I think they should challenge him and his assertions, not ban him from the discussion."

"I join ... and others who feel that Mike Siegel should still be on ... . ... While Mike attacked the way different groups presented their messages, I did not think that he made personal attacks. I did, however, find that others made personal attacks against him. I also found that many respondents were extremely arrogant, while making wrong statements in response to his comments."

"The harms are bad enough without knowingly fabricating new ones. but sometimes overzealousness, even my own, doesn't equate to 'knowing' until the fact checkers take the time to educate zeal. Zeal can either thrive within factual integrity or rebel against it. ... This forum belongs to the values of its current caretakers and they have every right to decide who stays and goes. But it leaves me wondering what the forum's fabric will look like once science and dissent are silenced. I sincerely hope I'm wrong but I can't help but picture a place where coercive anti-smokers who have demonstrated little regard for accuracy share plans for attacking smokers... Tobacco control needs more critical thinkers not less. It's our strength not weakness."

The Rest of the Story

As I stated above, I am eternally grateful to these individuals for their support and courage in speaking out publicly for the importance of being willing to seriously question our actions and the justification behind our agenda and to allow room for those who might see things differently to at least express their opinions. I will never forget the support and courage that these individuals showed, and their statements will always help to cushion the blow of my removal from this part of the tobacco control community.

This demonstrates that there are a large number of individuals within the movement who have the highest integrity and who are willing to consider dissenting opinions. The problem is that this segment of the movement (which may well be the majority) is overshadowed by those who are not willing to tolerate any dissent. The mentality of the movement is dictated by the latter group and the 'groupthink' mentality that has pervaded the movement predominates over the more rational thinking of large numbers of individuals.

Moreover, the former segment of the movement is usually reluctant to speak out publicly because of fear about potential repercussions for their careers. Would I have spoken out if I had known that it would have meant my career in the tobacco control movement? I'd like to think so, but who knows? Clearly, it is not currently feasible for there to be any meaningful dissent or free expression of opinions in the tobacco control movement.

Unfortunately, in social movements, the movement is only as good as the group dynamic dictates. It is not necessarily a reflection on the bulk of individuals in the movement. For whatever reason, a group-think mentality takes over, and, as my colleague noted, "members strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action." Thus, the group cannot tolerate dissent, though there may be many individuals who would personally like to engage in a meaningful discussion of alternative approaches.

I do believe that in the end, the truth will win out. What is right always does win out in the end.

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