Tuesday, June 29, 2004


They will lie and cheat to take away your power over what you do with your own body

More abuse of "science" "Fifty years ago, we discovered that smoking is bad for us. In 1954, Austin Bradford Hill and Richard Doll published a preliminary report on a study showing the very strong correlation between smoking and premature mortality. However, this classic study has in many ways sent medical science up a blind alley. While the dangers of smoking have been demonstrated in numerous subsequent studies, the attempts to find the New Smoking - another example of an environmental or lifestyle factor that causes substantial health problems - have largely failed. But the many pieces of junk science that have been produced in the process have provided the ammunition for unwarranted health scares too numerous to mention.....

A topical example of this is passive smoking, and in particular what Brignell calls 'the greatest scientific fraud ever'. In 1992, the US Environmental Protection Agency published a meta-study, bringing together many other studies on passive smoking. Unfortunately, the results were negative. It appeared that passive smoking was not a health risk at all. Mere facts could not be allowed to get in the way of a health scare, so some imagination was applied to the problem. One negative study was removed - but the meta-study still produced no statistically significant result.

So the goalposts were not so much moved as widened. The organisation found that there was a greater than five per cent chance that the results were coincidental, but less than 10 per cent - so they accepted them anyway. In other words, the EPA accepted a bigger risk that the effect they found was purely due to chance, quite at odds with standard practice.

The increased risk of lung cancer they found - 19 per cent - was frankly too small to have been conceivably detected given the methods they used. There are lots of ways in which inaccuracy could have crept into this final result. For example, is it really possible to merge the results of many different studies, all with different methodologies and subjects, accurately? How could someone's actual exposure to environmental smoke be measured over the course of years? Were all the people who said that they were non-smokers absolutely honest? As indicated above, were other possible contributory factors such as age, gender and income controlled for accurately?"

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