Does smoking cause lung cancer? To most people the answer is probably: FFS, everybody knows that smoking causes lung cancer! And it certainly used to be my own belief. It was what numerous senior doctors and health professionals have been telling us for the past 60 years, and I had no reason to disbelieve them. But in recent years, as I’ve pondered the matter, I’ve begun to doubt the veracity of this claim. And I’ve even begun to explore one or two other hypotheses.
However Chris Snowdon, author of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (see ad in right margin), does not have much doubt about the truth of it, and has suggested we have an online debate about it. Tomorrow night, I will have the honour of posting up his opening "case for the prosecution".
I will then respond to Chris. But I hope that Richard White, the author of Smoke Screens (see other ad in right margin), who shares my doubts, and who has devoted a chapter in his book to the matter, will also contribute some thoughts for me to have the honour of.also posting.
I’m sure this will be a good-natured and open debate, if only because the present participants are all of much the same mind about other smoking-related matters (e.g. passive smoking). The format I intend to follow is to start off with Chris Snowdon, and then follow that in no particular order with other posts from myself, Rich White, and Chris. The comments as ever will be open to anybody to respond, or ask questions. I would like to invite anybody who feels that they have something that merits its own post to submit them to me at email@example.com, and I’ll consider them for publication. As I see the debate, the people whose posts get published will be the speakers at a debate, and the commenters will be their audience.
I’m not proposing (at the moment) that there should be any time limit on this debate, nor any deadlines by which anyone is expected to provide submissions or responses. I’m thinking of a fairly leisurely discussion. As the debate proceeds, it’ll likely be interspersed with posts from me about other matters. I’ve decided to call the debate a Colloquium or Conversation or Chat About The Cigarette Hypothesis, partly because this is what Sir Ronald Fisher used to call it back in the 1950s when it first became a matter of controversy. It also makes for a nice catchy acronym — CATCH — which I’ll use as a tag for the various posts. I’ll number each post in the series, starting from CATCH-1, to provide an easy way of referencing posts. Who knows, we might even get as far as CATCH-22.
This is something of an experiment. I’ve not seen an online debate conducted on a blog this way. So I have no idea how it will go. With luck, however, it’ll give the whole matter a fairly good airing, and we will all come away newly enlightened. Or perhaps even more confused than ever.
For now I’d like to invite any further suggestions anyone might like to make before kicking off in 24 hours time with Chris Snowdon. People might wish to suggest other possible contributors (who might even include antismokers). Or they might seek clarification. Or whatever.
It occurs to me that it might be a good idea to start off by trying to gauge opinion on the question by polling my readers. But I had a rather unhappy experience with a Livejournal poll I tried out a year ago. I might give it another try. If it doesn’t work, maybe somebody can suggest another online polling gizmo. And also some questions.