The persistence of illogical statements; three failing filters


Reading, writing and thinking about tobacco related issues has me continually circling back to wondering how so many ludicrous statements (not to mention research and policy) see the light of day, and even when exposed to the bright cruel light of reason still manage to live long and prosper.

For example, the following is taken from FDA Warns Five Electronic Cigarette Makers They’re Breaking the Law (AOL Health).

Dr. Len Horovitz, internist and pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, questions the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.
“Using an e-cigarette is very much like smoking,” he told AOL Health. “The concern is that people will use this to quit smoking, but that it will simply become a substitute for the real thing. Eventually, they’ll go back to smoking because using this does not break the behavior of holding a cigarette in your hand.”

Failure #1 occurred when Dr. Horovitz formed these words and spoke them to reporter Ronnie Koenig. All things are permissible to think and ponder, and absurdity can be an aid to wisdom however in this case, looniness is just looniness. To make the point, let’s translate this into a non-tobacco passage:

“Walking somewhere is very much like driving somewhere,” he told AOL Health. “The concern is that people will do this instead, but that it will simply become a substitute for the real thing. Eventually, they’ll go back to driving because using this does not break the behavior of going from point a to point b.”

What he is saying, and this approach seems to be used quite often in regards to e-cigarettes, is that it is exactly because this option works so well as a substitute that people will then abandon it to go back to the one they know is vastly worse for them but otherwise is exactly the same.

Failure #2 occurred when reporter Ronnie Koenig incorporated this into the article without either 1. realizing it was crazy or 2. asking Horovitz if he really wanted him to print the comment (maybe this was asked, who knows). Or perhaps this failure had its genesis in journalism school. It seems that in general, with some notable exceptions, journalists, and/or editors, do not question even the most absurd of statements, and see it as one of their functions to smooth the path of all messages, meritorious or not, to an unsuspecting populace.

Failure #3 occurred everytime someone read this passage and did not find it insane. Part of this not eliciting gasps of astonishment and dismay are due to thinking that it has already passed some sort of truth standard and part of it is due to it being tobacco/smoking news. As soon as the average reader identifies it as such, the critical faculties switch off, the words are granted safe passage and the thoughts are incorporated into their world view. This is not entirely the fault of the reader; even smart and critical folks have been assaulted so often by mis and disinformation that its amazing that anyone who isn’t specifically concerned with this area will even notice anything is amiss.

-Paul L. Bergen

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