Opinion Formation

I often wonder how people get to form their opinions. Particularly these days, when a lot of people seem to have opinions completely opposite to mine.

It would be nice to think that people reached their opinions about one matter or another after careful consideration. But I don’t think that many of my own opinions are carefully considered. In fact, I think hardly any of them are. I simply don’t have enough time to think about everything.

Instead, I think that my opinion about anything (if I have any opinion at all) is usually pretty much what everyone else thinks. Or at least everyone else who has expressed their opinion to me. My opinion is pretty much the average of everyone else’s opinion.

And having opinions like that makes for an easy life. Because when you meet up with friends, and talk about stuff, you find that you mostly agree with them about almost everything, and they agree with you. Which is a nice and warm and cosy experience. And friends are, almost by definition, people you tend to agree with. It’s hard work having differing opinions. Because you find yourself disagreeing rather than agreeing, and disagreeing is, well,… disagreeable.

But because people’s minds are usually slowly changing about things, the average opinion in any social group is always slowly changing. For example, over 20+ years in my old social group, opinion gradually swung from being smoking-tolerant to smoking-intolerant. So that most of the people I used to know are now antismokers, even if none of them are virulent antismokers. And I think that this is something that happened largely because they gradually came to agree, simply by talking to each other.

But friends and family aren’t the only sources of opinion. Anyone who reads a newspaper, or listens to a radio, or watches TV, is also being bombarded with opinions. And these get averaged in too. So you’ll often find that someone who reads a different newspaper than you do will also have slightly different opinions to you.

And of course it’s from radio and TV and newspapers that antismoking messages have been coming for the past 50 years or more, first in a slow drip, now in a flood. And this actually works to gradually shift opinions. Sixty years ago, nobody worried about smoking. And now pretty much everybody thinks it’s bad for you, and that it causes cancer and more or less every malady too. And it’s all come from the mass media. So I reckon that some of my former friends were people who watched TV a lot, or listened to the radio a lot. And gradually became more and more worried about smoking, and told their friends about it. And so their opinions gradually changed.

And if I didn’t go down the same path, it’s probably because I’ve never been a big TV watcher or radio listener. If I had been, I’d probably now be as antismoking as any of them. Equally, if they got to become antismoking, it was also because I personally never countered their antismoking opinions with contrary strongly pro-smoking ones. If I had, they might not have become antismokers. Instead, when they expressed concern about smoking, I would sympathise. But I never thought about smoking much back then.

I think that the low key antismoking media campaign of the past 50 years was so successful in changing people’s minds, that it was decided to use the same template to shift public opinion about other things. For example the global warming scare uses the same media template: trace amounts of gas in the atmosphere posing a terrible threat.

But while the antismoking campaign was conducted over 50 years, they tried to rush through the global warming scare in just 10 or 20 years. And they did it not just with a drip-drip of media scare stories, but with a torrent of them. And I stopped reading the Independent (my newspaper of choice at the time) because I realised that they were hosing me down every day with global warming scare stories. They tried to shift public opinion too quickly. And it didn’t work. So now we have global warming alarmists and sceptics in roughly equal numbers.

I sometimes think that the sole purpose of the mass media is to shape public opinion in one direction or other. Antismoking is one direction. Climate change is another. Christopher Booker in the Telegraph today:

We can see countless other examples these days of how the media, politicians and lobby groups wish to impose their own false “narratives” on public understanding of the issues of the time, remorselessly suppressing any evidence that contradicts the version they want us to believe. But a prime function of journalism should be to examine all the evidence and to expose these “narratives” for the fraudulent concoctions of artifice they are.

When I first began seriously investigating the great alarm over global warming a few years back, what first aroused my suspicion that something very odd was going on was the way in which those pushing the scare were not only shameless in their readiness to fiddle the scientific data, as in the notorious “hockey stick” graph, but quite ruthless in trying to discredit any critics, however expert, who dared challenge their theory. The last thing the pushers of a one-sided “narrative” can ever allow, or are equipped to engage in, is honest dialogue, based on an attempt to explore the truth of an issue in three dimensions.

The above opinion comes from a new source: the internet. And the internet is a source of a wide plurality of opinions about everything. And I think that the effect of encountering diverse opinions on the internet is to make everyone rather less certain of their own opinions. So if the mass media tend to drive opinion in one direction towards a consensus, the internet tends to diversify opinion away from any consensus. It’s much harder to shape public opinion in an internet era.

But it still consists of opinions that people express, and that people read, and which act to change minds very slightly. And these days, as an accidental blogger, I express opinions every day. And for the most part, banging on about the smoking ban, I’m expressing the same opinions as my readers. And as such, I’m helping to confirm and re-inforce their opinions. But I don’t always do that. I throw in all sorts of other ideas too. But if my opinions subtly change or re-inforce my readers’ opinions, my readers’ opinions – expressed in comments – subtly re-inforce or change mine. So I get about us much opinion coming back at me as I put out.

I sometimes wonder what effect this blog has. Mostly it seems like zero, in terms of shifting public opinion. But since I posted it over a year ago, my Black Lung Lie has gotten about 70,000 hits. And that’s 70,000 people who’ve encountered a different opinion. And maybe some of them mentioned it to friends of theirs. And Tobacco Control have got a web page devoted to me. So I must be hurting them a bit. But if I am, it’s probably not that I get anyone to agree with me, but that I get people to doubt a few of their own certainties.

And maybe that’s all that matters.

About Frank Davis

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34 Responses to Opinion Formation

  1. Marie says:

    “But if I am, it’s probably not that I get anyone to agree with me, but that I get people to doubt a few of their own certainties.

    And maybe that’s all that matters.”

    Frank, I read your blog nearly every night before I go to bed. Your new post always ticking in when I want to close down my computer for the night.

    I have had bronchitis for about a week now, and mention this on FB means that one FB-friend seriously warned my about smoking. I should not smoke, as I had bronchitis last winter too, she said. It sounded in my ears as she thought, that this was the prove, that she was right. Smoking courses bronchitis.
    I just ignored the comment, but all the articles, I read about bronchitis (I wanted to know how long it will last ALL recommended stop smoking. So all these web doctor sites are also a source of public opinion. I dont believe it’s true. I know, that went out a night, when there were the first frost degrees, and just got very cold. My head nearly frozen.

    • margo says:

      I hope this clears up soon, Marie. Non-smokers get bronchitis too. I had about three years (ages back) of getting recurrent bronchitis and everyone said it was because I smoked. It wasn’t. It was to do with grief, stress, a bad working environment and exhaustion. I left the job and never got it again.

    • Rose says:

      I think I got bronchitis many years ago landscaping our new garden in November, I used to sneak out and do a bit more in that short period when the kids were watching the children’s programmes.
      The faster I dug the hotter I got, so one night I didn’t notice that a hard frost was forming until my gardening glove stuck to the spade handle.
      Boiling hot and panting like a race horse, I had been dragging down lungfuls of freezing air for some time, what I suspect to have been bronchitis was the inevitable result.

      I have been very careful of breathing in icy air ever since and so far it has never happened again.

      If it was bronchitis , I remember it hurt like a hot wire in my lungs and may have lasted a couple of weeks, but it’s hard to tell when you are running around after small children, time becomes elastic.

  2. margo says:

    How do we form opinions? Very interesting question. I think the basis of the process is laid down very early in life and has a lot to do with the degree of security and trust you have, as a very young person, in the authority figures in your life – the parents/carers and the teachers. In my case, I’m afraid, I think I learnt very early: Assume nothing, and blindly trust nobody. To this day, that’s my base for forming opinions.

  3. smokingscot says:


    This came recommended. Maybe of interest to Harley & Rose when they pop in.

    Avoids the smoking issue, however debunks many of the medical scams going on and touches on Climate Change. Major tome.


    • cherie79 says:

      I am getting a 404 error message when I try.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        A Smoking Un: How the Tobacco Industry Gets Away with Murder (1984) posted 11/3/13) – See more at: http://www.quackwatch.com/#sthash.dByfw7au.dpuf

        I didn’t see anything related to the shs scam on it………………

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          The guys an anti-smoking nut,his new address and likely job is at the Chapel Hill NC College Campus where one hell of a lot of anti-tobacco junk science is done! Ive been there at the actual campus and had friends who attended it.
          Who Funds Quackwatch?

          Stephen Barrett, M.D.

          Quackwatch is an international network of people concerned about health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies. The primary focus of our Web sites is on quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. The organization was founded in 1969 as the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud and was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1970. In 1997, it assumed its current name and began developing a worldwide network of volunteers and expert advisors. The nonprofit corporation was dissolved in 2008 after I moved to North Carolina, but our activities have not changed.

          Quackwatch has no salaried employees. It operates with minimal expense, funded mainly by small individual donations, commissions from sales on other sites to which we refer, sponsored links, and profits from the sale of publications. Money donated to Quackwatch supports research, writing, and legal actions that can protect many people from being misled.

          Many people wonder whether Quackwatch is a “front” for the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry, the “medical establishment,” or whomever else they might not like. Nearly every week I get e-mails accusing me of this—and worse. Quite frankly, the idea is preposterous.
          • I have no financial tie to any commercial or industrial organization.
          •My viewpoints are not for hire. Even if they were, none of my imaginary funders would actually have a reason to hire me.
          •Standard medicine and “alternative medicine” do not actually compete for patient dollars. Well-designed studies have shown that most “alternative” methods are used in addition to—rather than instead of—standard methods.
          •The total cost of operating our many Web sites is approximately $7,000 per year. If donations and other income fall below what is needed, the rest comes out of my pocket.

          Online Contributions

          Online donation can be made conveniently through PayPal. If you have a PayPal account, you can transfer money to us. If you don’t have an account, you can pay with a credit card.

          Contributing By Mail

          Payment by check or money order should be sent to

          Chatham Crossing, Suite 107/208;
          11312 U.S. 15-501 North;
          Chapel Hill, NC 27517.

      • junican says:

        I just opened it and it was OK.

  4. People’s opinions fascinate me too, especially when something seems so obvious to me (like EU = very bad), yet vast numbers fail to see it. They think it’s brought peace to the Continent, despite only being two decades old (since Maastricht was ratified) when what brought relative peace were the vast numbers of allied troops stationed in Germany. The Brits/English and French had already ended a thousand years of on-off fighting with the Entente Cordiale, nearly 90 years earlier.

    I’m told I mention the EU too much and people don’t want to hear that. They want to talk about sport and telly programmes and exchange loads of gossip and like you say, agree about everything, because that does feel good and I think it stops people saying what they really believe. Even though you only hear their side of any story, you tend to agree with them. There’s probably a 50/50 chance they are wrong, but they’re your friends so you nod along and maybe become angry on their behalf.

    The really scary thing is that ‘public opinion’ does not come from the public, but from fake charities and government ‘advisory’ groups whose job is to invent/distort information to recommend to the government what it wanted to do all along – or was instructed to do by the EU/UN/Council of Europe.

    But change has to happen slowly (hence the Fabians’ tortoise emblem to signify the very gradual process required to produce a totally socialist society by stealth). This “blueprint” to make homosexuality seem acceptable – even a good thing – to the masses, via the media, shows how they do it.

    Despite all of social engineering being carried out as a weapon against us, perhaps half the population now seems to have the ‘opinion’ that same-sex liaisons are fine and dandy, whereas ten or twenty years ago, they would have been disgusted. But their ‘opinion’ has been changed with propaganda, not serious discussion or any rational thought process going on inside them.

    Same with most subjects, I suspect.

    Unlike Margo, I learned very late to, “Assume nothing, and blindly trust nobody”.

    Not that I’m paranoid, but I’ve been taken for a mug too many times to mention. I’ll still listen to hard-luck stories, but if I lend money, I won’t expect it back. If I become someone’s friend I won’t expect them to disown me when I say something that ‘offends’ them. When I do someone a massive favour, I fully expect them to take further advantage of me and not even thank me. I’ll still try to help people out of humanity. When we lose that, we’re no better than the average MP or GP.

    I do have business debtors to chase through the legal system and the NHS to sue and the heads of Blair, Cameron and several others to see on spikes on London Bridge after being successfully tried and found guilty of treason, of course, but that’s only fair and proper, I think and called ‘just desserts’.

  5. harleyrider1978 says:

    What is the great lie that’s been told for 2 generations the smoking causes………..fill in the blank!

    Weve been bombarded daily with the anti-smoking BS for the 50 years and longer Frank speaks of and even I thought when they said ” CAUSES” they had actual proof connecting the end points!

    Then 4 years ago I find the COT MEETING and discover they never had any proof at all to ANYTHING!

    Talk about MIND BLOWING…………So here on Franks Blog after we find the SHS hoax is all made up BS it wasn’t long for the enevitable to happen digging into the DIRECT SMOKING CLAIMS!

    Of course they used the same BS epidemiology to create even the direct smoking claims we see!

    When no proof exists that alone is the MOMENT OF REALITY TO EVERYONE………..

    Except those who wont have their sand castle world destroyed by the incoming tied and build dykes and the such to try and stop the enevitable truth from being found out destroying their sand castle world!

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Epidemiologists Vote to Keep Doing Junk Science
      Epidemiologists Vote to Keep Doing Junk Science

      Epidemiology Monitor (October 1997)

      An estimated 300 attendees a recent meeting of the American College of
      Epidemiology voted approximately 2 to 1 to keep doing junk science!

      Specifically, the attending epidemiologists voted against a motion
      proposed in an Oxford-style debate that “risk factor” epidemiology is
      placing the field of epidemiology at risk of losing its credibility.

      Risk factor epidemiology focuses on specific cause-and-effect
      relationships–like heavy coffee drinking increases heart attack risk. A
      different approach to epidemiology might take a broader
      perspective–placing heart attack risk in the context of more than just
      one risk factor, including social factors.

      Risk factor epidemiology is nothing more than a perpetual junk science machine.

      The rise of a pseudo-scientific links lobby

      Every day there seems to be a new study making a link between food, chemicals or lifestyle and ill-health. None of them has any link with reality.


      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Truly there is only one course for the future that Concrete Proof be the deciding factor in all science. Even Einstein wanted his theory PROVED and it was finally via optics from a solar eclipse! Why do we today not DEMAND the SAME!

        I gather one simple answer………..It destroys the political landscape created by the OUTCOME BASED POLITICAL AGENDAS!

        So it leaves to reason nothing will end until a complete change in government happens!

        • harleyrider1978 says:

          Carl yesterday in an exchange told me they don’t need toxicology to prove epidemiology!

          That statement alone told me Volumes,they don’t want to prove their contentions as that would mean an end to their profession!

      • truckerlyn says:

        “Specifically, the attending epidemiologists voted against a motion
        proposed in an Oxford-style debate that “risk factor” epidemiology is
        placing the field of epidemiology at risk of losing its credibility.”

        I thought it had lost all credibility years ago! It darn well should have!

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    In the young days of epidemiology they sourced out contaminated wells for bacterial and viral diseases affecting communities. But these were PROVED via microscopic testing that found the culprit…………Today they don’t even want to prove anything as they entered the world of anti-smoking and environmentalism that destroyed their discipline and we get daily doses of LINKED TO JUNK SCIENCE! Then idiots eat it up in the medical moment on the evening news………..but from my observations the claims have gotton so wild most folks just go not again!

  7. junican says:

    I think that you’ll find that attempts to change public perception are almost always accompanied by masses of emotion. Very few facts are allowed to intervene. Such facts are quickly glossed over by ensuring that they are generalisations and ephemeral, such as “Smoking related diseases cost the NHS £x billions per year” Thus, anyone who smokes and has a heart attack suffered from a ‘smoking related disease’ and could be included in the stats, whether smoking had anything to do with his heart attack or not.
    That is the way that it is done. Constant repetition then drives the emotions of fear, anger, intolerance, etc, into the public psyche.
    That is also the reason that it is so hard to change people’s minds. Their opinions are based upon emotions rather than intellectual information.
    Even those of us who have tried to examine the science are affected by the emotion driven propaganda. It is very hard to avoid the effects. The interview that we were talking about yesterday was so full of this emotional horror that you could not listen to it all the way through! But what precisely was that emotional horror? I think that it was the presenter’s constant harping on about the danger and his fear of SHS.
    It seems to me that TV adverts use emotions and little else to sell their wares. Also, I have no doubt that that is the reason that ASH ET AL employ so many ‘media experts’. It’s a sad fact also that politicians also espouse emotion.
    On a positive note, ASH ET AL are finding it more and more difficult to manipulate emotions, try as they might. Eventually, people get over their emotions and ask themselves what on earth they were afraid of. But it takes time.

  8. harleyrider1978 says:

    Liberal Progressive by definition:

    Their opinions are based upon emotions rather than intellectual information

    • Tom says:

      …. but, while feigning the highest intellectual knowledge and wisdom above that of God at the very same time to hide from themselves every shred of hypocrisy and to bless and sanctify their self-alleged higher moral ground, while in reality treating only themselves as God and deciding on everyone else’s behalf what is right or wrong, based solely on their own emotionally charged opinion, and nothing more.

  9. Rose says:

    Thank you for posting that article, Frank, I have been watching the Mandela coverage this week and being constantly told how Margaret Thatcher had supported apartheid I thought I must have dreamed that she had been instrumental in his release and refused to harm the workers of South Africa by applying sanctions to their produce.

    BBC and Channel 4 news prefer their ‘narratives’ to the truth

    “With the aid of such luminaries as Peter Hain, the message they wanted to put across was that Mrs Thatcher was a friend of apartheid and opposed to Mandela’s release from prison.

    As all the evidence shows, this was, of course, the very reverse of the truth. As set out in detail in A Journey With Margaret Thatcher, by Sir Robin Renwick, whom she sent to South Africa as our ambassador in 1987 – and as was confirmed last week, under the heading “Why Mandela owed a huge debt to Thatcher”, by FW de Klerk, the prime minister who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for their joint work in ending white rule – Mrs Thatcher played a crucial part in a process to which she long saw Mandela’s release as the key.

    She first put this to South Africa’s hard-line prime minister PW Botha as early as 1984. She three times stood up to the clamour of Commonwealth leaders for more sanctions precisely because she knew these would harm black Africans more than anyone. She explicitly appointed Renwick to work for Mandela’s release with Botha’s successor, de Klerk. And no one was more generous in recognising her part in the story than Mandela himself, which was why she was the first Western leader he came to see, and thank, after leaving prison in 1990.”

    After the BBC coverage of her funeral and the vicious celebrations of the Left, it took a programme on the Cold War to remind me of how her quiet diplomacy helped to bring down the Iron Curtain .

    Gorbachev says “exceptional” Thatcher helped end Cold War

    “Thatcher said of Gorbachev: “We can do business together”.

    Thatcher, an enemy of communism, said at the time that she and Gorbachev each firmly believed in their respective nation’s political system and were never going to change one another.

    But Gorbachev said on Monday that his relationship with Thatcher helped bring change and tear down the Iron Curtain.

    “We gradually developed personal relations that became increasingly friendly,” he said. “In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War.”

    “Margaret Thatcher was a great politician and an exceptional person. She will be remain in our memories and in history,” said Gorbachev, whose resignation as president December 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union.”

    But if the BBC have their way, not in ours.

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Coffee and Cigarettes May Protect Against Liver Disease

    Dec. 14, 2013 — Coffee and cigarette smoking may protect against the rare liver disease Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), study shows.

    Share This:


    In a new study from Norway published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, both coffee consumption and cigarette smoking are shown to potentially protect against primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). This is a chronic liver disease caused by chronic inflammation of the bile ducts.

    The findings are of great interest against a backdrop of increasing knowledge on coffee as a possible protective agent in other liver diseases.

    The cross-sectional study was conducted by researchers at the Norwegian PSC Research Center based at Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo.

    The study was conducted using a questionnaire about environmental exposures, and included 240 PSC patients and 245 controls.


    The study shows showed that the PSC patients had lower coffee consumption both currently and in the early adulthood, suggesting that coffee consumption could protect against the development of the disease. PSC patients who drank coffee, however, had lower levels of liver enzymes in the blood, thus suggesting a beneficial effect in the liver.


    Regarding cigarette smoking, only 20% of the patients reported ever daily cigarette smoking, compared with 43% of the healthy controls. In addition, cigarette smokers acquired the disease on average 10 years later than non-smokers. Taken together, these observations confirm and strengthen previous observations of smoking as a possible protective factor in PSC.

    About PSC

    While PSC is not a common disease, it is a severe condition affecting mostly young adults (30-40 years), and with a high risk of associated cancer of the bile ducts.

    Few treatment options are available and PSC is one of the most important reasons for liver transplantation. While the possible protective effect of smoking against PSC seems rather unique to this particular liver disease, coffee consumption has been shown to protect against multiple other liver conditions including liver cirrhosis and liver cancer — and now for the first time also against PSC.

  11. harleyrider1978 says:

    Interesting find from the pirates

    Captain John Phillips’s articles[edit]

    Captain John Phillips, captain of the Revenge, also set a code for his men in 1724:

    VI. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoke Tobacco in the Hold, without a Cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.


    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Clearly even the pirates took care of their own………….

      III. A standard compensation is provided for maimed and mutilated buccaneers. “Thus they order for the loss of a right arm six hundred pieces of eight, or six slaves ; for the loss of a left arm five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for a right leg five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves ; for the left leg four hundred pieces of eight, or four slaves ; for an eye one hundred pieces of eight, or one slave ; for a finger of the hand the same reward as for the eye.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      A smoking pipe cap was to keep embers from flying out and thus creating a fire aboard ship. No doubt the only smoking restriction worthy of being a rule……….

  12. harleyrider1978 says:


    BREAKING: Peter O’Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, has died. He was 81. http://usat.ly/1dfJ1yv

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      He is by far equal to even Sir Burton in my eyes as an actor of talent.

      LONDON (AP) — Peter O’Toole, the charismatic actor who achieved instant stardom as Lawrence of Arabia and was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, has died. He was 81.

      O’Toole’s agent Steve Kenis says the actor died Saturday at a hospital following a long illness.

      O’Toole began his acting career as one of the most exciting young talents on the British stage. His 1955 Hamlet, at the Bristol Old Vic, was critically acclaimed.

      He got his first Oscar nomination for 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia, his last for Venus in 2006. With that he set the record for most nominations without ever winning, though he had accepted an honorary Oscar in 2003.

      A reformed — but unrepentant — hell-raiser, O’Toole long suffered from ill health. Kenis announced the death in an email Sunday.

  13. garyk30 says:

    I strongly suspect that the opinion of most groups is the opinion of the strongest willed person in that group.
    The others are more than willing to have someone else make the decissions.

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