Category Archives: book

From the bookshelf: Being Wrong

“As perverse as it may seem, these many forms of creatively dodging the counterevidence represent a backhanded tribute to its importance. However much we ignore, deny, distort, or misconstrue it, evidence continues to matter to us, enormously. In fact, we ignore, deny, distort, and misconstrue evidence because it matters to us. We know that it is the coin of the epistemological realm: that if we expect our beliefs to seem credible, we will have to furnish their grounds. ….If we think we hold our beliefs because they comport with the evidence, we must also think that we will revise them when new evidence arises. As a consequence, every proposition, no matter how much we might initially resist it, must have an evidentiary threshold somewhere, a line beyond which disbelief passes over into belief. …we see evidentiary thresholds being crosses all the time…

But we also see evidentiary thresholds not being crossed….As powerful as confirmation bias is, it cannot fully account for this: for the persistence and duration with which we sometime fail to accept evidence that could alter our theories. Another factor is the claim, implicit or explicit in many belief systems, that attending to counterevidence can be dangerous – to your health or family or nation, to you moral fiber or your mortal soul,. Confirmation bias is also bolstered by the fact that looking for counterevidence often requires time, energy, learning, liberty, and sufficient social capital to weather the suspicion and derision of defenders of the status quo. If the dominant theory works to your detriment, odds are those are resources you don’t possess. And if the dominant theory works to you advantage, or at least leaves you unscathed – well, why bother challenging it?”

(pg. 129-130)

– Paul L. Bergen

Authors, twitters, parodies and about the book

There have been two changes to our blog which may or may not have been quite apparent.

1. We now have our authors listed so if you have a preference for reading any over another just click on the name at the side. Also the author is indicated at the top of the post rather than by the signature at the end.

2. We now have a twitter feed on the side which we hope will entertain, amuse and inform. It is an experiment and will continue as long as there is interest, and that interest will be determined by how many followers we get so even though you can just read it on the side, we encourage you to sign up for our twitter feed just to give us a good idea of whether it is fulfilling a need.

3. Due to the success of our Health Canada parody, we will be doing these sorts of things on a regular basis. Of course, we are not quite ready to challenge the Onion but like the Onion, the layers of humour and cynicism are shallow skins over some uncomfortable truths. This too is a tool in our struggle to improve public health.

4. Finally, and this will come up again, we are both soliciting reviews and comments on our Tobacco Harm Reduction 2010 book, and also looking for submissions for the 2011 edition. If you have seen articles that you feel are substantial enough to be part of an annual review of the area, let us know via



For those who do not go to the “about me” for the twitter feed, and
for whom it is not obvious, we wanted to clarify: The entries are
written from the perspective of those who would deny the benefits of
THR, exaggerate the risks from low-risk nicotine products, and
otherwise damage the integrity of health science in reporting
misinformation about tobacco. Thus, the Quit or Kill faction (when
quit or die just is not fast enough). For those who follow twitter or
the news about it, you will recognize the inspiration is the
successful the BPGlobalPR parody, written as if it were coming from

Tobacco Harm Reduction 2010: The Book

Our new book, Tobacco Harm Reduction 2010: a yearbook of recent research and analysis, is now available for public download; see its home page at our website for details ; please use this blog entry as a home for any comments you have about it.

Book reviews, health and politics, etc.

1. Book reviews

Over at Spiked, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick has two book reviews; one we’ve read (Velvet Glove Iron Fist) and another one that looks as promising (Geoffrey Kabat’s Hyping Health Risks). (See The anti-smoking ‘truth regime’ that cannot be questioned:Two new books expose how epidemiology has been used as a tool of propaganda in the war on tobacco – and woe betide anyone who tries to inject some real facts into the debate.) Fitzpatrick’s own Tyranny of Health is a bracing rant against the medicalization of everyday life including the valuation of length over quality of life.

2. At The Rest of the Story (two narratives)..

Most recently, Michael Siegel writes New Study Finds Nicotine Gum May Pose Carcinogen Hazard to NRT Users; Will Anti-Smoking Groups Call for Removal of Oral NRT Products from Market?
The title is fairly self explanatory with the blog post asking whether these same groups who have campaigned so strongly for the removal of ecigarettes (which in terms of this research have less proven harm than oral nicotine) be consistent and campaign against these now. This is not an argument against the NRTs since they are still obviously much safer than smoking but rather a question of consistency…..if oral NRTs are better than smoking, then surely ecigarettes are as well.

And previously this same writer posted Colleagues Accuse Me of Working for Big Tobacco and E-Cigarette Industry; Anti-Smoking Advocates Seem Unable to Address Opposing Views Substantively. This sort of experience is not news to those of us in tobacco harm reduction but it is even more dramatic when it happens to Siegel who was a vociferous supporter of smoke free legislation. He has remained health focussed while his erstwhile colleagues have become even more political and is now being castigated for what they believe is fifth column behavior.

Both these posts and so many other commentaries illustrate the depressing fact that in this area rather than the debate being over which is the best way to improve health it is a battle between health and politics and as the battle continues the casualties are not among those fighting but among the civilians.


Velvet Glove Iron Fist


Subtitled A History of Anti-smoking, Christopher Snowden‘s book Velvet Glove Iron Fist is perhaps the best ever written on this subject, at least the best I have read. Entertaining as well as informative, this book should be in every library. (See the Velvetglove website for excerpts).

Though harm reductionists and anti-tobacco activists share the goal of getting smokers away from smoking, we differ radically on how we conceptualize the process. Anti-smoking activists are paternalistic and feel that smokers will only respond to force as in increasingly onerous restrictions and various other steps in the direction of prohibition.

Harm reduction is based on the idea of choice and autonomy. Smokers smoke for good reason (even if it is unhealthy) and only by accepting those reasons as valid can we develop attractive alternatives to smoking. Secondly, and quite a different point, is that the anti-smoking movement has created the very barriers that stop smokers from knowing about safer alternatives.

Know the enemy; read this book.