When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

09 November 2007

Lies: conceptually cleaner than truth

The November 10 issue of the British magazine New Scientist calls attention to the prevarications of anti-tobacco activists pushing ever-more-stringent smoking bans. A report and editorial highlight maverick anti-smoking activist Michael Siegel's debunking of claims that brief exposure to secondhand smoke has potentially deadly effects on the cardiovascular system. "It is certainly not correct to claim that a single 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke causes hardening of the arteries, heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes," Siegel tells New Scientist. "The anti-smoking movement has gone overboard." The response from the prevaricators is telling:

"When you take the science and put it in the public domain you can't include all the caveats," says Stanton Glantz, a tobacco researcher at the University of California in San Francisco. "The messages have to be simplified so people can understand them."

Glantz is right, of course. If anti-smoking groups said regular exposure to secondhand smoke, continued for decades, might slightly increase your risk of heart disease (assuming that the weak associations found in epidemiological studies signify a causal relationship), that would be hard to understand. When they say the slightest whiff of secondhand smoke could kill you, that's easy to understand. The only problem is that it's not true.

The Big, Fat Line Between Simplification and Lying (Reason's Hit and Run Blog)

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