I never thought I would be writing a post like this one. I was always under the impression that tobacco control advocates were united in their desire to reduce tobacco-related morbidity and mortality and that our opposition, against whom we needed to concentrate our attention, was the tobacco industry. If I was ever going to be personally attacked and insulted, I was sure the attacks and insults would come from the tobacco companies.
But in my eight years of involvement in tobacco litigation, I was always treated with great respect and courtesy by the tobacco company lawyers with whom I interacted. And tobacco company documents that attempted to refute my research may have been harsh in terms of their attacks on my scientific arguments, but they treated me as an individual researcher with decent respect.
Not so from many of my tobacco control colleagues.
The rest of the story is that beyond my wildest imagination, the attacks on me and my career have ended up coming not from the tobacco industry but from my own colleagues. In nothing short of an effort to ruin my career, I have been attacked and insulted by my colleagues in far worse fashion than I could have ever imagined possible. I have been treated, by many of my colleagues, with far less respect than I have ever been treated by anyone affiliated with any tobacco company.
Here is a sampling of what my colleagues had to say about me. These attacks and insults were made publicly on the list-serve from which I was tossed (and apparently their demands were heeded by the list-serve administrators):
"I am thinking of removing my name from this list for email updates on posts because I can tolerate no more claptrap from Dr. Siegel's tobacco-industry soundbytes that appear with predictable regularity in all the posts from that source. ... Is it possible to block messages from this list originating from Dr. Siegel? Everyone else has worthwhile input."
"I too would like the capacity to simply block Dr. Siegel's rantings from my mail. I know that we are not to be calling names but I believe that at this point Dr. Siegel's messages have descended to the point that they can only be called rantings and I no longer wish to be subjected to them."
"I am tired of Dr. Siegel's opinions and would not care if you would block him from participating."
"[Allowing Dr. Siegel to remain on the list-serve] means that we waste more time on him."
"the appropriate place for unrelenting sniping at research, policies, theories, and people is in an article in a refereed journal or as a letter to a refereed journal. ... Siegel's continued personal attacks, bickerings ... is not appropriate in a list serve dedicated to the advancement of health, and to the positive discussions of how to advance health. These attacks and rantings have had a detrimental impact on the freedom to interact, and smack too much of the tobacco industry's efforts to create a 'doubt' campaign, and to create momentum for the press to talk about a 'division' in the health activist movement. ... We do not need a self-appointed savior to attack all of our work and our personalities, and to try to return us to that tyranny of smoke -- a very unhealthy time. Those activists in states and nations who are still trying to get even a little air to breathe do not benefit from such rantings and bashings. It's time to stop spending time on Dr. Siegel, and invest that time instead on advancing health. Anyone who wants to converse with Dr. Siegel or read his postings still has that opportunity available, but thankfully not on [this list-serve]. It was a courageous and difficult move I am sure."
"Good news [that Dr. Siegel was thrown off the list-serve] -- anyone who wants to read his postings and personal attacks can visit his blogs, read his editorials, and see him on TV. It is one thing to point out problems one may see in any line of research or policies, etc., but it is quite another thing to continually attack the advances people are making, attack the people in the movement, to try to stop the increase of smoke-free areas, and to end up (intentionally or accidentally) continually assisting the tobacco industry in their fight to return to smoky areas and a 'doubt campaign.' Peer reviewed research works both ways, even for Siegel. I have not seen his as yet."
"How about a separate list just for Siegel -- or toss him off [the list-serve] entirely. I join those who are weary of having our years of work trashed by Siegel's constant tobacco industry style attacks on all of us who have worked for years - many of us without receiving any compensation - to be able to breathe air free of smoke. Siegel is successfully diverting efforts from the work at hand, and is finding a ready audience in the newspaper and on television, so I can't see that he any longer needs to find an audience on [the list-serve]. Let's get back to the positives, and reject Siegel's tobacco industry style negatives."
The Rest of the Story
There is no rest of the story. This is the story.
It's the story of a movement that can tolerate no dissent. It cannot listen to any "negatives." You are free to contribute to the discussion, but only if you discuss the "positives." You cannot criticize or suggest that anything we are doing or saying is wrong.
It's the story of a movement where questioning the justification of policies or demanding scientific accuracy is viewed not as a valuable service to the movement, but as an intolerable distraction from the "important work" that needs to be done.
It's the story of a movement where opinions that run against the prevailing dogma and wisdom of the movement are not tolerated, nor are the individuals who express such opinions.
It's the story of a movement which is so self-righteous that it will allow no questioning of anything that is being done or said and any questioning is automatically described as supporting the tobacco industry or speaking for Big Tobacco. There is no possibility of dissent from within, because by definition, any dissent implies necessarily that the individual who opines thusly is on the side of Big Tobacco.
It's the story of a movement in which any criticism, no matter how well-documented and argued, is viewed as a personal attack and as unacceptable, but any actual ad hominem attack on the critic is apparently acceptable.
It's the story of a movement from which I am glad to finally be free. My conscience could just not tolerate it any longer. I don't want to be associated with this kind of mentality and this kind of behavior. It's not who I am and I will not go along any longer.