Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Anti-Smoking Activist Responds to Wall Street Journal Article with Ad Hominem Attack Against The Rest of the Story Author

In an email sent to thousands of tobacco control practitioners, the anti-smoking activist who defended inaccurate statements about the acute cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke by arguing that people are too stupid to be told the actual truth has responded to my criticism of anti-smoking groups for making such inaccurate statements not by addressing the substance of the issue, but by issuing an ad hominem attack against me.

In the email, the activist writes: "My general approach to Mike Siegel has been to ignore him, since, according to him everyone but him is either corrupt or stupid. ... Siegel's continuing attacks on the science and organizations that are working to help the public understand the important, substantial, and immediate effects of secondhand smoke on the heart are following well-worn approaches that the tobacco industry pioneered: Put words in other people's mouths, set up straw men and knock them down. And, do it over and over and over again."

The Rest of the Story

It is becoming clear that the anti-smoking groups are unable to defend their misleading statements. In fact, their ability to defend these statements is so weak that the only approach remaining is to resort to the ad hominem attack.

When one sees an ad hominem attack, it is usually a clue that the person making use of this technique doesn't have a leg to stand on. Thus, the need to avoid the substance of the argument and resort to character attack.

The attempt to compare me with the tobacco industry is also a well-recognized aspect of the ad hominem attack. It is referred to as "guilt by association." The objective is to associate me with the tobacco industry and thus undermine my credibility: "Guilt by association can sometimes also be a type of ad hominem fallacy, if the argument attacks a person because of the similarity between the views of someone making an argument and other proponents of the argument."

Besides the invalidity of the ad hominem approach used by this anti-smoking activist, there are also some glaring factual inaccuracies.

First, I have never claimed not to be stupid. In fact, I readily admit that I am, in fact, quite stupid. Just last week in fact I searched for well over 30 minutes to find my car after work, only to remember just before calling the police to report my stolen car that I had taken public transportation to work that day.

I also spent close to two years trying to convince anti-smoking organizations to correct fallacious statements on their web sites. Quite a stupid waste of time that was - kind of like repeatedly banging my head against the wall.

So I readily admit my stupidity.

Second, I have never claimed not to be corrupt. I have repeatedly been accused of taking tobacco money to take the positions I espouse on this blog. Yet so far, I have failed to definitively deny those accusations. Maybe there is a good reason why I am critical of anti-smoking groups that lie to the public. Maybe that reason involves personal financial benefit.

So I actually refuse to deny that I am not corrupt, as well as stupid.

Finally, my readers will note that I have never put words in other people's mouths. Every one of my criticisms of statements made by anti-smoking groups has been accompanied by a quote of the actual statement made by that group. Thus, the validity of each and every statement I have criticized can readily be judged by any interested reader. Of course, those who simply choose to ignore this important issue are hardly interested parties. But they should be, since this issue has implications for the scientific integrity, credibility, and ethical standards of the anti-smoking movement.

One aspect of the statement, however, is correct. I do get all of my approaches directly from the tobacco industry. After following the anti-smoking playbook for 20 years, I've now switched over to the tobacco industry playbook. It's actually a little harder to follow now than the anti-smoking playbook is. Why? Because the tobacco industry playbook no longer calls for outright lies. It no longer calls for outright factual misrepresentations of the science. The anti-smoking playbook apparently does.

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