Monday, December 05, 2005

Rest of the Story Author Expelled from Tobacco Control List-Serve; Dissent is Met with Censorship

The author of this blog was expelled from the tobacco control list-serve tp-talk (which stands for tobacco policy talk) Friday. In a message sent to all tp-talk members, but not to me, the list-serve administrator stated (and this is the message in its entirety):

"I made the dictatorial (but perhaps benevolent) decision to remove Mike Siegel from tp-talk today. I felt that his posts lately have interfered with the quality of the listserv messages. I suspect I'll be the subject of a blog posting about how he's been kicked off a tobacco control listserv, but I can deal with that."

I found out about my expulsion from this tobacco policy discussion group, of which I have been a part for the past 5 years, from a colleague's email.

The Rest of the Story

Actually, the list-serve administrator is wrong. He is not going to be the subject of a blog posting. The subject of this blog posting, instead, is about the anti-smoking movement and what is has come to.

After all, the real issue here isn't the list-serve. The real issue is the fact that the tobacco control movement simply cannot tolerate any dissent. And that in response to speaking out to suggest that perhaps some of the things we are doing are not appropriate, the movement resorts to attacking the messenger, and now censoring that individual's free expression of opinion.

In some previous comments, a colleague of mine from UC Berkeley criticized my claims that there were attempts to censor my expression of my opinions because there was no outright censorship. Well here it is. Censorship - alive and well in the tobacco control movement.

The reason provided for my expulsion is quite interesting: my messages have apparently "interfered with the quality of the listserv." What is really being said is that I disagreed with some of the dogmatic views of the movement. In this case, that's what interference means: disagreeing with the mentality of the movement.

There clearly is no room for dissent in the tobacco control movement, and dissent is met not only with personal attacks, but now, with outright censorship.

There's a tinge of McCarthyism here. Perhaps more than just a tinge.

Fascinating to me is the fact that the final blow leading to my expulsion was my scientific analysis of heart attack trends in 12 states and in the nation as a whole. Had those trends showed a significant effect of smoking bans on heart attacks, I would not be writing this post today. It is the data - and what the data suggests about the anti-smoking agenda - that led to the need to disallow me from expressing my opinions. It was simply too much of a challenge to the dogma of the movement.

The economist John Maynard Keynes once said: "Sir, when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

I've been in the tobacco control movement for 21 years and I have extensive experience in the field at the national, state, and local levels. I have over 60 peer-reviewed publications in tobacco control and have testified as an expert witness in at least 7 tobacco trials. What has guided me throughout my career is an attempt to bring sound scientific and sound policy analysis to the problem of tobacco use. And I'm not going to stop doing that now.

When the facts change, I change my mind. What does the tobacco control movement do? It's clear: censor the individual so that the movement does not become aware that the facts may have changed. There is no room to challenge the received wisdom and canons of tobacco control.

To borrow a few words and wisdom from a dear colleague of mine, I think there is a need for, and a value to provocation, challenge, and scrutiny of long-held assumptions. This is the motor of progress and renewal. And what is its opposite?

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