Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lack of Interest in Discussion of Science Pervades Anti-Tobacco Movement

The thing that I think strikes me the most from my experience on the tobacco control list-serves over the past months has been the utter lack of interest in discussing the science that supports our policy efforts. In many ways, I am glad that I was thrown off of all the list-serves I was on, because I found them to be more of a mechanism to indoctrinate advocates with the prevailing dogma of the movement than a forum for meaningful discussion of scientific, policy, and public health issues.

Here is just one example of a public attack on me on a list-serve, which demonstrates the lack of interest in discussing the science and the way in which anti-smoking advocates turn the tables on anyone who tries to question anything we are doing, transforming what should be a discussion into an ad hominem attack against the individual offering his or her opinion.

I have inserted my commentary on the points made in this personal attack on me and my character. Since I was thrown off of the list-serve, I have no opportunity to defend myself against this personal attack, clearly intended to defame my character, harm my career, and silence me. So I will respond here:

"There is little point arguing specifics with someone convinced he possesses incontrovertible truth, but I second XXX's suggestion that Michael Siegel's messages be moved off the SHS [secondhand smoke] and US (United States) lists... ."

The anti-smoking movement does not want to discuss "specifics" because it is on the "specifics" that they can be shown to be wrong, and I think they know it full well by this point. That's the real reason why they don't want to discuss the "specifics." Moving my messages off these discussion lists is simply banning my participation in the list-serve. In other words, it's outright censorship. I should not be allowed to express my opinions because they go against the grain. And because I believe what I am saying. OK, I'm sorry. From now on, I'll post statements which I don't really believe.

"Most XXX's [list-serve participants] are dismayed by ad hominem attacks, both for their inherent cruelty and for the way they stifle free expression. In the present case, the tables are turned somewhat as one individual has consistently and without warrant attacked dozens of tobacco control organizations and thousands of individuals who work diligently and in good faith. The effect is just as chilling."

So my comments about whether 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke causes atherosclerosis, fatal and catastrophic arrhythmias, and myocardial infarction are ad hominem attacks, yet this missive, in which you don't provide a shred of scientific discussion of the issue, is not? And now I'm the one who is stifling free expression.

I think that's the way the movement views things. By expressing my opinion, I'm stifling the movement's ability to have things the way it wants. The movement wants to be unchallenged, unquestioned, and to be able to do and say anything it wants to advance its agenda. My speaking out on behalf of the truth and on behalf of some basic ethical standards stifles the movement's ability to do this. Thus, I am viewed as someone who is stifling free expression.

Incidentally, I have never engaged in any personal attacks on any individual, either on this blog or on any of the list-serves. I have been very careful not to make this a personal issue and not to suggest that any individuals are doing anything wrong. I have spoken only about the actions of organizations.

Clearly, the anti-smoking movement views any questioning of its tactics as being an "ad hominem" attack. That's a great way to quell any dissent.

"I am not an epidemiologist and I will not debate you on specifics, Dr. Siegel, but I know something about the use of language and I can confidently say you have consistently used weak extrapolation, manipulative tautology and that industry favorite, the reductio ad absurdum, to try to dismiss claims of SHS risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks in non-smokers."

In other words, I'm not interested or able to discuss the scientific issues involved. I simply believe you're wrong and should shut up because it's annoying me to have our tactics questioned. I have no evidence that you're wrong. I can't provide any scientific documentation that you're wrong. I am unable to demonstrate or even suggest why you are wrong. But you're questioning our tactics, therefore you must be wrong. Or maybe you're not even wrong. But in any case, you must be silenced.

"However, the urgency of reducing the burden of disease and death absolutely does not grant licence to tell lies to make a point, Dr. Siegel."

How sweet. Now I am publicly accused of not only being an arrogant jerk who is unwilling to discuss the science, but an outright liar. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

"On behalf of many who have complained...I would ask you to cease and desist."

Please don't say anything critical about the anti-smoking movement. We don't want to hear anything but praise and support for our statements, our claims, our tactics, and our actions. Even if you personally believe, as a scientific expert in the field of tobacco control for the past two decades, that the science is being misrepresented, please don't say anything. Just keep your opinions to yourself.

The Rest of the Story

If this is what the list-serve is all about, then frankly, I don't want to be a part of it. And if this is what the tobacco control movement is all about, then I don't want to be a part of that either.

I view myself as a public health researcher and practitioner. In public health, it is essential that we be willing to enter into a discussion about the science and public policy justification for our actions. If we are not willing to do that, then we are not in the field of public health, and I can no longer be a part of such a movement.

There simply isn't room for me, because I am not able to blindly follow along and to support principles, statements, tactics, and practices that believe are unjustified, inappropriate, or wrong. I am just the wrong guy for this particular job.

So call me a public health physician, a public health researcher, a public health advocate, or a public health practitioner who has a special interest and focus on the problem of tobacco and smoking. But I don't view myself as an anti-smoking advocate any longer. I simply cannot go along with the blind promotion of an agenda without allowing any mechanism for meaningful discussion and debate over the science and justification for that agenda and the tactics used to promote it.

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