Thursday, February 26, 2009

Smoking ban "miracles"

Are reporters being duped by publicity hungry researchers in public health, or are they deliberately disseminating misinformation to an unwitting public?

Unfortunately, the facts support the latter proposition; that the press has assumed a role as the propaganda arm of the anti-smoker cult. A preponderance of the evidence points to the complicity of the press and other mainstream media in the distribution of misinformation, calculatingly designed to deceive the public.

George Bush stumbled over the old saw that says: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The press has completely ignored that admonition. And, since they continue to be fooled by the same shoddy science and biased research, one can only assume they are duplicitous in its distribution to the public.

Let’s look at one example.

In April, 2003, researchers issued a press release touting a study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, which claimed that a smoking ban in Helena, Montana had cut the heart attack rate by 60%. The press jumped all over the story. The study was promoted as conslusive evidence that smoke-free policies not only protected people from the dangers of secondhand smoke in the long term, but had an immediate positive effect and reduced heart attacks.

The problem was that the study had never been peer reviewed or published in any reputable medical journal. In other words, no one was given an opportunity to evaluate the data to see if they supported the claims being made by the researchers.

When the study was eventually peer reviewed and published a year later, the flaws became all too apparent. The data and the methodology simply didn’t support the conclusions reached by the authors.

But, the public had already been led to believe that “science” had “proven” that smoking bans could reduce heart attacks in the short term. The press, seemingly, had reported the story directly from the press release, without corroborating the data, totally ignoring the fact that the study had been neither peer reviewed, nor published.

The press had been fooled. Copycat studies began cropping up on a regular basis. Following the same procedure as the Helena study, in a process that has come to be known as “science by press release”, each new study was released to the press prior to peer review or publication. Pueblo, Colorado; Bowling Green, Ohio; Scotland, Ireland and France.

And, by the time the data was made public and found to be a lot less than convincing, the damage had already been done. The initial press coverage ensured the public was left with the erroneous impression that smoking bans were saving lives and therefore worth the intrusion on personal liberties which they represented.

The conclusions presented in the Helena study were incorrect, as were the others. But, with the help of the press, anti-smoker crusaders were free to milk the deficient studies for their propaganda value until the flaws were detected. Studies later found to be flawed are seldom reported in the papers.

The press was fooled not once, not twice, but many times over. Or, perhaps, they were simply reluctant to let the facts get in the way of a good story. In either case, the public was misled.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University and himself an antismoking activist, has referred to “science by press release” as “the new Tobacco Control approach to disseminating junk science”. (September 11, 2007)

A study in Scotland had drawn the same conclusions as the Helena study. A press release was issued prior to peer review or publication. Just like in Helena, the press covered the story without substantiating the underlying data. And, just like Helena, the study was shown to be sadly lacking.

Author Christopher Snowdon does a thorough analysis of Scotland’s Miracle Study on his web site.

Recently, Dr. Siegel, who is also critical of the study, challenged anti-smoking groups to publicize the two-year follow-up results of trends in heart attacks or acute coronary syndrome in Scotland since the smoking ban went into effect. He is offering the first group to do so a $200 donation to their organization. (December 02, 2008)

He is unconcerned about possibly of paying out the $200 donation. He notes in his December 2 article: “Because as I have learned, these anti-smoking groups aren't truly interested in getting out the facts. They are interested in putting out information which is favorable to their cause. The goal is not scientific accuracy or integrity. It is putting out information to support the agenda.”

Pretty tough words. But, the press appears to be quite willing to act as the unofficial Propaganda Ministry of the anti-smoker cultists. Scientific credibility and integrity have been usurped by bullshit and bafflegab.

That’s not a healthy situation for any true democracy.

Late news:
In a pre-emptive strike against science by press release, Christopher Snowdon (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist) has recently analyzed data from England relating to heart attack admissions following the implementation of their smoking ban in 2007. The smoking ban had
no effect
on England's heart attack rate, casting even more doubt on the already suspect studies from Helena, Pueblo, Scotland, etc.

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