Frank Davis writes.
In CATCH-4, a week or so back, Chris Snowdon wrote:
A couple of days ago I called this ‘dose-sensitive relationship’ into question, pointing out that the number of cigarettes somebody smoked per day was not a measure of the dose they received in terms of the amount of tobacco smoke inhaled (assuming it was inhaled at all). I was able to show that the dose was dependent not just on the number of cigarettes smoked, but the fraction of those cigarettes’ smoke which was inhaled, and that this was dependent on the rate at which they were smoked. If the rate at which cigarettes were smoked was unknown, then the dose was unknown, and it wasn’t possible to say that there was a ‘strong, dose-sensitive relationship’.
There’s been no response from Chris to this argument of mine. And that’s probably because it’s a new argument, or at least one which has not much been advanced in debates of this sort. Nevertheless, new or not, it was an argument which, I would dare to say, largely undermines Chris’ confident claim.
A few days earlier, I called into question his claim that the London Hospitals study had shown a Relative Risk of 7 for smokers contracting lung cancer, by showing that this RR fell rapidly when fairly small smoker or cancer misclassification errors were assumed. And there would have been misclassification errors. There are always errors in measurements. I dare say exactly the same analysis could be applied to a great many studies of smoking, with much the same effect.
There’s been no response from Chris to this argument either. And this one isn’t a new argument.
The truth of the matter, I fear, is that the association between smoking and lung cancer doesn”t bear much in the way of close scrutiny. It only holds up if the numbers are taken at face value – that there were exactly so many smokers, and they got exactly this much lung cancer -. Question the numbers at all, and the claims rapidly falls apart. It’s a house of cards, which will only remain standing if nobody touches it, or even breathes upon it.
In fact, I would say that there really shouldn’t be any need to go to the lengths of performing mathematical operations on the given numbers as I have been doing. All that needs to be done is to point out that all the published numbers do not consist of accurate measurements of any sort, but almost entirely of guesses. For it’s a pure guess what number anyone gives for the number of cigarettes they smoke in a day or a lifetime. And it’s a pure guess what anyone may be said to have died from, whether it be lung cancer or emphysema or bronchitis or heart disease.
What other science relies upon guesses to provide it with its raw data? Does this epidemiology actually deserve the name of ‘science’ at all? The best that it offers is a vague intimation of what might be cause and what might be effect. It is as accurate as wetting a finger to gauge the direction of the wind.
Nevertheless, it’s upon the basis of this risible ‘science’ that the doctrine that smoking causes lung cancer has been almost entirely erected.
For neither have animal studies helped very much either. It appears that, except perhaps for one case, studies of smoking animals have never been shown to produce lung cancers – something Chris puts down to animals breathing through their noses, and filtering the smoke (as if somehow nature had equipped them with better nasal filters than any cigarette manufacturer have managed to mount on the end of a cigarette). The one exception was when beagles were given tracheotomies, in an experiment that was never repeated, but which Chris seemed to think was a more ‘natural’ way of smoking, although if it was done to me would entirely negate my own presumably ‘unnatural’ way of smoking (I first draw a little smoke into my mouth, and then open my mouth and inhale both smoke and air into my lungs)..
I’d also like to call into question Chris’ assertion, in the fragment quoted above, that "any defence of smoking as the causative factor must provide an alternative". I think that what he means here is that if people don’t believe that smoking causes lung cancer, then they must tell us what does.
But do they? Isn’t it enough to simply create sufficient doubt about the old hypothesis, by pointing out its innumerable deficiencies? Isn’t it that the old hypothesis first has to be seen to fail before some new hypothesis can be entertained? As the measurement of planetary motions became more and more accurate, ever more epicycles had to be added to the old earth-centred Ptolemaic model of the solar system in order to keep it working. There was already a need for a new model by the time Copernicus showed up with his new heliocentric scheme of things. In the same way, I don’t think that I (or anybody else) needs to advance a plausible hypothesis to replace the cigarette/smoking hypothesis in order to show its inadequacy.. Nor is it that there is any lack of alternative hypotheses. There’s the diesel exhaust hypothesis (diesel driven vehicles started appearing on the roads just when lung cancer started becoming more frequent). The fallout/radioactivity hypothesis (highly carcinogenic radioactive elements, beginning with radium, began to become abundant at the same time, and eventually got showered all over the world thanks to nuclear weapons testing). The HPV hypothesis (Human papilloma virus is now believed to be the cause of cervical cancer, and HPV has been found present in a number of other cancers, including lung cancer).. And more.
But in considering possible causes of lung cancer, we’ve mostly been considering a few post-war studies – Doll and Hill (1950) and (1954 – 2004), the Kaiser Permanente experiment (1979 – 1987) -. Since then the same questionnaire-driven methodology has been used to build the even giddier card house of secondhand smoking studies. Even though Chris respects the active smoking studies that preceded these, he doesn’t have much respect for these studies, or for the weight that has been placed upon them (as his own book testifies).
Nor, it seemed, does Chris place much weight on the Nazi studies by Lickint, Muller, et al, from about 1930 to 1945.
It would seem then that he rejects the Nazi studies, but accepts the post-war active smoking studies (which were arguably just a continuation of the Nazi studies), and then rejects the subsequent passive smoking studies.
Why pick and choose? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just reject the whole lot, from start to finish?
Furthermore, I would suggest that there are a number of very good reasons for rejecting the whole lot. In the first place, it creates a much more easily defensible position – it straightens the trenches, and gets rid of a Ypres salient, so to speak. Secondly, as I have said before, the passive smoking hypothesis is built upon and depends upon the active smoking hypothesis. Once someone has accepted that active or primary smoking can cause a lot of lung cancer (never mind what is meant by ‘a lot’) then it is perfectly plausible that passive or secondhand smoking can cause a little bit of lung cancer (and by extension so also all the other mystical degrees of smoke – thirdhand, fourthhand, etc, etc -) While the tree of primary smoking remains standing, it will continue to keep sprouting new secondary and tertiary branches. The only way to stop it is to cut the tree down at its base, or better still entirely uproot it.
Furthermore, this is no longer some sort of academic debate (as it was perhaps in the 1950s when Sir Ronald Fisher was a friend of Bradford Hill). Sixty years on from those civilised times, smoking research is being used to persecute and demonise smokers, expel them from pubs, refuse them medical treatment (Dick Puddlecote has a new example of this just yesterday), fire them from their jobs, and evict them from their homes (see a comment by Michael McFadden I received today). It has become an accelerating modern pogrom.
"A lot of us smoke, and we had a meeting about it, but [the manager] told us if anyone was caught smoking inside, he’d throw us out," Pearl said.
I asked Pearl if she couldn’t move somewhere else, but immediately regretted the question. Even in the dark, I could see her eyes fill with tears as she looked away and shook her head.
In this circumstance, it has become as absurd for any smoker to give credit to any of the ‘research’ that is being used to persecute them as it would have been for a Jew to give credit to any Nazi racial ‘research’.
And this is why I believe that smokers will increasingly be driven to reject the entire set of epidemiological studies that have been conducted over the past 80 years, and also the entire system of eugenic ‘lifestyle’ medicine in which it is embedded. All of it must go. The whole filthy thing must be uprooted and burned. None of it can be allowed to remain.
Because we are not really engaged in any sort of nice, civilised debate any more. We are engaged in a war. And in this war there can be no compromises and no concessions. We can’t afford such luxuries. It is a war of annihilation. And the sooner smokers and their friends see this, the better.