Is the Climate Change Orthodoxy as Dishonest as the Anti-Tobacco Orthodoxy? An Epistemic Challenge Problem

The last couple of weeks have offered a fascinating and educational experience for those of us who attempt to interject legitimate science and thoughtful ethical analysis into the politicized world of tobacco research. It was enough to inspire me to write my first blog entry.

In case you missed it, a scandal erupted when a huge amount of email from climate researchers was leaked. The email revealed the behavior of the faction that promotes the dominant theory, that anthropogenic global warming poses a major threat that we need to address immediately. These researchers-qua-political-actors endeavored to ignore and denigrate research that does not support their theories — done without even addressing the accuracy or validity of that science — and attempted to mislead the public about their own findings.

What is fascinating, in case it is not obvious, is that a simple word-substitution algorithm would make the whole thing read like an expose of the anti-tobacco extremists’ behavior in attacking tobacco harm reduction, denying the benefits of nicotine, condemning low-risk products, overstating the effects of second-hand smoke, and trying to bully anyone who challenges them.

John Tierney provided a good concise overview of the “smug groupthink” that has already been revealed from this enormous collection of information. Adding a bit of narrative element to the story (foretelling a book-length version?), Tierney describes how, on the email list for the researchers who support the dominant theory and politics, one researcher was expressing concern about the quality of some data while the others focused their discussion of how to protect data from legitimate legal requirements to share it (read: how to make sure that no one who does not already agree with their conclusions gets a chance to re-analyze the data).

There is also this revelation: “When a journal publishes a skeptic’s paper, the scientists e-mail one another to ignore it. They focus instead on retaliation against the journal and the editor, a project that is breezily added to the agenda of their next meeting”. The usual strategy appears to be to attack anyone whose research threatens the orthodoxy as being on the payroll of industry, whether or not that is true, without even considering whether the science might be right. As Tierney put it, “Contempt for critics is evident over and over again in the hacked e-mail messages, as if the scientists were a priesthood protecting the temple from barbarians.”

Probably the most interesting reported scandal, which you may have heard about, related to the hockey-stick-shaped graph that was widely touted to the public and policy makers. It purported to show a sharp increase in global temperatures over recent decades after centuries of relative constancy with a downward trend. It turns out that the real inconvenient truth about this graph was that the recent uptick was based (without any acknowledgment or explanation) on a different data source than the rest of the graph; had the graph just used the one data source it would have showed no increase.

It all sounds strangely familiar, huh?

But here is the most interesting part to me: An educated layperson — say someone with a degree and who reads the news, but with no special expertise in the topic — could be forgiven for not knowing there was any honest scientific disagreement about the particulars of global warming. Similarly, an educated layperson could be forgiven for not knowing about the great potential of tobacco harm reduction, the fact that nicotine is a beneficial drug with very minor health risks (so long as one is not inhaling smoke), and that environmental tobacco smoke does not pose the dire threat that is currently fashionable to claim and is actually quite difficult to link to substantial disease risk. (This forgiveness does not extend to experts who know better but are intentionally misleading people, nor to the many clinicians or “public health” spokespeople who pretended to be experts while merely reciting the conventional wisdom they read in an anti-tobacco pamphlet. Such people are liars of one sort or another and are a threat to the already shaky validity of public health science, and should not be forgiven for either.)

So, as an educated layperson on the question of global warming, I read about this revelation and realize there is more to this science than meets the eye. I see the smoking gun that we have been lied to, and that people who present themselves as legitimate scientists are acting more like marketers. I am also aware of the research that shows people want to believe. E.g., most people, when reading a newspaper account of topics they know something about, rate it as fairly inaccurate and misleading, but then assume the story on the next page they have no expertise on must be completely accurate. But even for me, my gut reaction is to assume that most everything I thought I knew a month ago is still right. I seek consolation in the embarrassed researchers’ defensive claims (see, e.g., the explanation for the aforementioned data change in Tierney’s column and the comments following Tierney’s blog, which also contain additional damning observations).

In short, even I have to work hard to force myself to realize that politics may be trumping science and that I should reevaluate what I thought I knew. This does not mean, of course, that we should assume that the opposite is true. That would be like concluding that smoking is not so bad just because propagandists have overstated how bad it is and repeatedly lied about low-risk alternatives. The key is that the core message is probably still the best supported theory, but it may be that lot of details with great practical importance may have been lies and we need to stop assuming all the orthodox claims are true.

I am interested in epistemology, work hard to think like a good scientist and philosopher, am familiar with the research on practical epistemology, and have personally experienced a case where the orthodox “researchers” have hidden truths and misled the public. But I still want to cling to what I believed before. It seems entirely possible, of course, that the global warming orthodoxy is correct on all points of substance in spite of the fact that the anti-tobacco orthodoxy is lying to the public about harm reduction and other topics. After all, there has been no evidence presented to suggest that climate scientists write papers that systematically ignore the weaknesses of their data and methods, or that journals will publish almost anything that supports the orthodoxy regardless of its scientific weakness, while censoring heterodox studies that are methodologically of much higher quality.

Thumbing through a climate science journal and seeing what seems like careful science offers a breath of fresh air for those of us who usually must read public health journals. But my gut inclination to believe them in spite of the recent scandal has nothing to do with reviewing the accuracy of their core claims — I could be misled by what might be faux-careful-science outside of my field just as easily as a layperson could be taken in by the junk science in public health journals. No, I am just another victim of the well-known psychological tendency to not want to admit doubt about something I thought I knew.

So, what hope do we have of educating victims of the wealthy and aggressive anti-tobacco (anti-nicotine, anti-electronic-cigarette, etc.) propaganda machine about the truth?

I am not going to mull that question over for five minutes and glibly suggest solutions (I will leave such behavior to people writing the worthless “policy implications” paragraphs for their health research study papers). But I would like to try to clarify the question: If you, reader, are a proponent of tobacco harm reduction, then you are probably concerned with freedom, human welfare, and protecting highly-vulnerable people from the abuses of powerful institutions. Thus, there is probably a good chance you were disposed to be sympathetic to the “we need to do something about global warming, soon” position. So please read a bit more about the recent revelations and then introspect about whether your urge is to continue to believe exactly what you always believed. What would it take to sway you from that? Is there any particular revelation that gave you an anchor of skepticism that did not just fade away? Were you left with particular “but what about…?” thoughts whose answers might have swayed you more? (Having thought about these, please drop me an email or post a comment — I am seeking to learn more.)

Of course, this exercise does not work if you already thought there were holes in the orthodox position on global warming. In that case, your reaction is probably to not feel, at a gut level, that anything has been revealed because it is all old news. Those of us with expertise know that the anti-tobacco extremists are willing to lie to the public, damage the validity of health science, and do whatever they can to destroy anyone who reveals truths they find inconvenient.

I get the impression that there are honest scientists who question some of the global warming orthodoxy that would say the same thing about their antagonists. What could those honest scientists say to me, an educated and very interested layman, that would help me see the world as they see it? And is there anything they could say to someone less invested in epistemology?

-Carl V. Phillips

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  • Elaine Keller  On December 9, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I don’t believe we are facing a new problem. Those whose ideas challenge the dogma of the day always seem to face an uphill battle, outright hostility, and even death. I was just now researching who said “Nevertheless, it moves” (It was Galileo) and stumbled across this biography of Alfred Wegener

    I am hard-pressed to figure out what the dishonest scientists could say to convince me that it is ethical for them to condemn millions to terrible diseases and death just so they can congratulate themselves on taking a stance against anything that is “addictive.”

    In a court of law you are asked to swear to tell the whole truth. The whole truth is what’s missing from messages such as “This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.” In a court of law, withholding pertinent information is equivalent to telling a lie.

  • Kevin  On December 11, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I find it interesting that Dr. Michael Siegal a long time anti-smoker advocate, thought to advise his blog readers of this link. Perhaps for the same reason he was tossed unceremoniously, from the good graces of the Anti-smoker cartel.

    Simply because he asked them to be honest in what they portrayed to the public. This seems to be explained by something he is struggling with. Something that, for the consensus public health cult empowerment of the others, is not an obstacle. He seems to have an over active conscience.

    A smokers “addiction” seems to rest on very shaky ground, in its deliberate lobby association with street drugs. When you look to the observational sciences [found in unbiased research not of the news release variety, we see much more often], in place of the cannon of theoretic information exploring the issue of smoking. The so called science by press release, is resting almost entirely in theory and rhetorical preordained conclusions.

    Commandments of the medico\industrial Rockefeller purchased cult, we know today as the Public health Industry [remember eugenics? yea, that was them]. Smoking and second hand smoke are expressed in epidemiological two dimensional perspectives, of a multidimensional assesment, involving many more unknowns than know data points.

    IOW bringing a knife to a gun fight.

    The euphoric rush as it is described by the all knowing TC sayers, pointing crooked fingers, while openly attempting to instill guilt into the act of smoking. Neglects the well established sciences, which describe the same stimulus in the brain is achieved within the same receptors, with the smell of fresh baked bread. The similarity is no accident when we look to the physical properties of the much dreaded nicotine, and discover it could never survive the burning we see in the act of smoking.

    Smokers don’t actually inhale nicotine at all? {{{GASPH}}}

    Misinformation campaigns rarely touch on the fact that people are not born with so called nicotinic receptors. Or are the receptors created by smoking your first cigarette. The shortfall of information empowers the lobbies. Who happily cling to the medical taboos of the past created by Hitler’s propagandist machine, which still reign today.

    Niacin or vitamin B3 is an essential ingredient introduced artificially into bread. Which eliminates the chances of contracting pellagra by vitamin B3 deficiency. Vitamin B3 is not stored well in the body and requires constant replenishment, to enable a long list of functional benefits. Among which we now know, is an immunity effect against cancer and cancer growth. The name Niacin was created by the science of fear-mongering, to deliberately mislead the public, into believing the two were not the same, “should the public be led to believe, they could find a more efficient means of vitamin supplement by smoking, it would be a public health disaster”. Niacin derived from smoking might be preferred, as opposed to the much less efficient, abet cheaper artificial vitamin substitute, used in bread.

    Nicotine when burned is transformed into nicotinic acid. Nicotinic acid engages and stimulates acidochlorine receptors in the brain, which in turn release endorphins which both improve the mood and increase the efficiencies of brain function.

    Improved comfort without the loss of inhibitions, leading to loss of emotional and physical control, as we see associated with drugs and alcohol. Comfortable efficiencies, without negative effects, found in a loss of control, is what a smoker actually seeks.

    The same nicotinic acid produced in the stomach when you eat bread by the interaction of stomach acids with niacin. The addictive association with drugs and alcohol is conveniently misplaced by judgmental rhetoric. Smoking should be more appropriately placed in the rhetorical realm of an addiction to physical activity. The same euphoric rush associated with jogging, which stimulates the same receptors. Feeling good by improved physical and emotional efficiencies can be called an addiction, however if we peel back the long time morality of tambourine toting hypocrisies, we find an addiction to smoking is only appropriately placed; within the very small segment of those who smoke to excess [chain smoking] which even among other smokers is recognized as gluttony. [Too much of a good thing?]

    The use of nicotine “alternatives” is similarly found in fools logic. Nicotine is a pesticide. A very dangerous poison used to protect most green plants from insects in addition to its use in the process of photosynthesis.

    When you inject whole nicotine directly into the blood stream by absorption or introduce it into your lungs directly, by smoking cessation “inhalers”, what is experienced is more aptly described as nicotine poisoning. Which for the non smokers who invented the patch, was mistaken for the positive reactions experienced by smoking. A misdiagnosis which explains the huge failure rate and the lack of nicotine “addiction” in the use, of the much touted and grossly expensive “alternative” product line. Placebo\Nocebo did all the rest, and even smokers were tricked by misleading advertising backed by biased medical opinions, into believing the much touted “alternatives” could somehow offer more than a distraction, when attempting to quit smoking.

    Whatever floats your boat?

    I took the time to read the research, in place of the newspapers. Have any of the self anointed Public Health Experts?

    Obviously not.

    An “expert” in a field so overwhelmingly corrupted, is hardly something to brag about, now is it?

  • Kevin  On December 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Last time around they created a massive toll, by “protecting” the race, from pollution by impure people. That toll was measured in millions of bodies, we hung many them in response.

    This time it is an economic disaster we are seeing, promoted by foundation charities holding over ten trillion dollars. A number rising by the day by “protectionist” racketeering, solidified by huge promotional assets. Assets they describe as tax exempted charity donations. Huge sums which are subsidized through imbalanced taxation structures, paid for by us all. Unbalanced resources used to gain an unfair advantage once again, to “protect” the race, from promotional fear mongered disasters, in many forms.

    What should our response be this time around?

    I have always believed the statement that charity begins at home.

    Hit them where it really hurts with a call to nationalize charity foundations and research funding. To set legitimate science free from the conflicted interests, that have cost us dearly over the years by Rockefeller’s revenge, created and controlled by philanthropy.

    That economic crisis thing? solved in process.

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