Thursday, June 01, 2006

An Opportunity to Return to the List-Serve, But With Conditions of Censorship

Today I received an email which, for the first time, notified me that I had indeed been suspended from the list-serve that I reported Tuesday I had been thrown off of. Of note, this notification came more than a week after I had been thrown off. The suspension is permanent, unless I plead to be re-instated and apparently, agree to not express my opinion that the anti-smoking groups are misrepresenting the science of secondhand smoke more than once. Of course, since I have already posted on the groups' misrepresenting the science and making fallacious claims, I take this to mean that I can no longer post on that topic.

So in essence, what this amounts to, is censorship. Sure I can come back to the list-serve. Sure they tolerate my dissenting views. It's just that I can't express those dissenting views. Once you've criticized anti-smoking groups once, you've met your quota and you're done with that line of criticism.

This is a nice way for the list-serve to be able to claim that I am still welcomed there, but to not have to worry about me actually expressing my dissenting opinion. By regulating the subjects of my posts, they can control what I say and what the list-serve members have to be "exposed" to. So I am apparently welcome at the list-serve, but my opinions are not. Unless of course they are supportive of the anti-smoking agenda and tactics, in which case there would never have been a problem, even if I had actually posted redundant comments on the list-serve.

I can understand this decision. There have been rather vigorous complaints about me on the list-serve; a large number of advocates are sick and tired of having to listen to the suggestion that anti-smoking groups are not being accurate in their scientific claims. They don't want to have to listen to it any more. They don't want to be forced to confront the unfortunate reality that something is going very wrong in our movement.

And there will likely be large-scale resignations from the list-serve if I continue to express these opinions. So better to get rid of one person than risk alienating a large number of members.

The Rest of the Story

By the way, did you know that there is a button on the computer that performs a function known as "Delete." On my computer, it's Ctrl-D that does the trick. If I'm reading through emails and I come across one that I don't wish to read, I delete it. It's really a neat trick, and I find that it works rather well. There's also a more advanced function, one which I have only become proficient at recently, which can filter out emails from people who I do not want to hear from, or on topics that I don't want to read about. Works quite well.

With that in mind, let me say right now that a lot of the comments on this blog have been on the same topics. Some even have expressed similar opinions more than once. But I will not censor the comments of my readers by limiting people to one or a certain number of comments on a particular topic. The point of this blog is to encourage discussion and debate on issues and it is often the case that a particular argument is relevant and even important to make more than once. Or that a particular point may be demonstrated in different ways and in different circumstances. Or that additional documentation may be discovered relevant to a given point.

So you don't need to worry about me counting your comments, keeping track of the number of comments on a particular topic, and suspending one of you whose opinions I don't agree with until you promise not to express your opinion on a particular topic more than once or a limited number of times. People who don't want to read your comments can just skip over them. The Page Down button works pretty well for that.

But more seriously, I think that a public forum such as this one or such as a discussion list-serve can make it clear either that true debate and discussion of topics is encouraged or it is not. And it is clear to me that the list-serve from which I was thrown off is simply not interested in any real discussion of the issues. My impression is that it's more of a tool for advocates to use in sharing strategies to advance their pre-determined agendas and tactics than it is for real meaningful discussion of what the agenda and tactics should be in the first place.

Perhaps that's not a bad thing. Perhaps that's the mission which the list-serve aims to support. But if that's the case, then I guess I was misled about the mission. I thought it was supposed to be a forum for critical discussion of our tactics and our agenda so that we could ensure that we were proceeding down the most appropriate and effective path possible and so that we could ensure that the tactics used to achieve our goals were the most appropriate, effective, and evidence-based as possible.

Clearly, that's not the concern of the anti-smoking establishment. And that's why I think that the truth doesn't play a very compelling role in the movement any more. The truth is, I think, viewed as more of a hindrance to our being able to pursue effective strategies to promote our agenda than as a guiding light to lead us down the most appropriate path.

Truly, my forcing anti-smoking groups and advocates to think about what is truthful and scientifically valid and what is not was viewed by many as an interference, an obstruction, a hassle, or an annoyance that was getting in the way of their important work.

To me, the truth is the end itself. I believe that if we strive for the truth, then we will help ensure our effectiveness as public health practitioners. But for the anti-smoking movement, it appears that the truth -as it relates to our actions and statements - is merely something that gets in the way of our perceived success. Interestingly however, we spend much of our time blasting the tobacco companies for their misrepresentation of the truth. A troublesome double standard.

Before closing, I need to emphasize what a severe emotional blow this whole experience, and especially this latest one, has been for me. As you know, I have been in this movement for 21 years, and I have played a major role in producing the science and taking part in the efforts that have resulted in smoke-free work environments for a large majority of employees in the United States and Canada. I have been trusted and highly valued as a scientist, researcher, physician, and epidemiologist in providing tobacco control groups and advocates with sound scientific data (at least in my opinion) to support our efforts to promote smoke-free workplaces and other tobacco control policies.

But apparently, I wasn't actually valued so much as a reputable scientist; instead, I was apparently valued because the data I provided was in line with the agenda that we were trying to pursue. As soon as the science that I reported started to put in question the actions of anti-smoking groups, I suddenly was no longer reputable or respectable. In fact, I simply became a tobacco industry point of view-spouting fanatic who either was being paid by the tobacco industry, who didn't even bother to look at the science before spouting off, or who was widely misprepresenting and distorting the science.

Now I understand why many anti-smoking advocates are afraid to express their real opinions when they think that something we are doing or saying as a movement is wrong. They are afraid that what happened to me might happen to them. And they are probably right. Censorship is alive and well in the anti-smoking movement, and it is working effectively, in various forms, to suppress any perception that there is any substantial dissent with anything we are doing or saying.

And this is, I think, how we could have gotten to a situation where more than 68 anti-smoking groups are making completely fallacious scientific claims. Now I see why, and how, this could happen. The group-think mentality that has taken over the movement simply does not allow the expression of dissent. So anything goes. The more ridiculous the claim, the better. If it advances the agenda, then it is going to save lives and help kids. And no one is going to call you on it. At least not on an anti-smoking list-serve.

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