Behind Closed Doors

I’ve been wondering today whether zealotry of the sort found in antismoking or global warming science is the natural outcome of a common disease of science.

It seems to me that good science, on any subject matter whatsoever, is always open to the widest possible participation, from people with a diverse set of opinions. It seems to me that the greater the diversity, the more rapidly and readily that mistakes will be corrected, and new hypotheses offered. It’s open, public science that’s conducted in the full light of day.

Science starts to deteriorate when it ceases to be open and public. And this is something that can easily happen in a variety of ways. And perhaps the most common way is that some of the participants come to regard themselves as ‘experts’ in the field, and to conduct their discussions exclusively with fellow ‘experts’. The science thereafter proceeds in a closed and private environment. Mistakes cease to be readily corrected, and new hypotheses cease to be offered. And in this closed environment, the participants  in the debate grow more and more dogmatic in their convictions, as they are repeatedly re-enforced by each other. In fact, very soon they start saying, “The debate is over.” Because, for them, it actually is over.

In the case of the antismoking zealots, the principal participants were senior medical doctors, like Sir George Godber. From an article cited recently by Rose:

“I can’t break with Godber,” wrote Crossman in his diary in October 1969. “He is a very powerful man of the department and people never like acting against his wishes. He is away half of the time around the world, advising the World Health Organisation, in America, lecturing. He is remote, out of touch now I think, except with the lord high panjandra and the physicians in the Royal Colleges of London. He knows all the top people, but nothing about ordinary life, yet on the other hand he is radical and left-wing. I don’t want to quarrel with him.”

Here was someone who belonged to a closed world of fellow experts, and who knew “nothing about ordinary life”.

…he was a man uninterested in personal publicity and concerned only about the good opinion of himself by the medical cognoscenti.

He was an ‘expert’ who only consulted other ‘experts’.

I’ll also cite a recent comment by Walt:

A Consumers Union “Report on Smoking” 1963 (!) in which (1963) long before shs was invented, your Royal College of Physicians was recommending bans on smoking in public as a way to make smoking socially unacceptable and keep it “out of sight, out of mind ” 1963. Before the first US Surgeon General’s report. A decade before Godber dreamed his dream of a smoker-free planet and wished for the magic wand of something along the lines of shs to make it come true. The war started behind the closed doors of a non-smoke-filled room long before any of us knew it: gleams in the eyes of patient madmen.

It all starts ‘behind closed doors’. For it’s probably behind closed doors, with only a few like-minded people present, that it’s easiest to get all concerned to agree to something that would meet with numerous, vocal objections in any open, public debate.

‘Behind closed doors’ also inevitably means excluding people with divergent opinions, such as anyone with any connection to Big Tobacco, anyone who smokes, and anyone who dissents in any way. More and more people are excluded, until in Moscow last year the WHO antismoking conference was entirely closed to the press and the public.

From a link to a 2007 Michael Siegel blog, posted up by Rose today:

Importantly, only one perspective on this issue was presented to us in the trainings. There was no room for disagreement or challenge. These ideas were presented as scientific facts, not subject to debate. In fact, if we were to challenge the ideas, the implication was that we – ourselves – might be accused of working for Big Tobacco or receiving secret payoffs.

The most prominent and dogmatic idea presented to us was that “The debate is over.” There is no room for questioning of the link between secondhand smoke and chronic disease. Anyone who challenges that link or suggests that it is being exaggerated must therefore be a front for the tobacco industry. No reasonable person – acting of their own accord – would challenge this undebatable science.

Much the same has been happening in climate science. Here, once again, we have a select group of ‘expert’ climate scientists who have all come to agree with each other, behind closed doors, that the world is warming dangerously as a result of human carbon dioxide emissions. Anyone who disagrees is branded as a ‘denialist’ working for Big Oil. And of course, as always, “The debate is over.”

The only real difference between this sort of dogmatic zealotry and an ordinary religious cult is that the cult members are highly influential members of society: they are senior doctors and physicists. And while an ordinary religious cult may attract numerous devotees, the devotees are usually quite ordinary people, and not very influential. But when a cult takes over the top echelons of  the medical profession, the consequences are likely to be immediate and devastating.

These cults, which are all born behind closed doors in secrecy, probably meet their nemesis when their closed, secretive debates are thrown open to public debate and criticism. i.e. when good, open, genuine scientific debate re-commences. And this seems to have been happening with climate science as secret discussions have been thrown open to public view (Climategate), and the ‘expert consensus’ is now increasingly called into question. And the same has begun to happen with the antismokering zealots, largely on the web.

But the problem in our present society is that almost everything is now done ‘behind closed doors’. Military research is conducted behind closed doors, lest enemies find out. And so also is a great deal of the research conducted by corporations of any kind, lest competitors learn of it. We no longer have an open, public debate about anything. We now live in a world where there are experts in everything that are making all the decisions, with everyone else excluded.

The results will probably be disastrous.

Behind closed doors, people go mad. It might be said that, prior to the last election, the Labour party leadership managed to convince themselves that they could, and would, win the election. They came to this conclusion largely by consulting only each other, and a coterie of the usual ‘experts’. In their closed world, they had completely lost touch with reality.


About Frank Davis

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14 Responses to Behind Closed Doors

  1. Nika says:

    Smoking alone outside in the heat, cold, rain, snow, etc., people can also go mad. The problem can be traced directly to overpopulation. When you do not/cannot live in a small community where you can get up front and personal with fanatics, you have no voice or power. THAT is maddening!

    Long ago I was refused a much-needed abortion because it was still illegal everywhere. There was never any means for me to confront those who had pursued and passed that antique, ignorant and cruel law, so it turned into lifelong anger and frustration. Now that I personally know some anti-smokers — each and every one of whom I consider individually responsible for so much harm and suffering — you betcha I will give them no rest!

  2. Rose says:

    Talking of going mad.

    Plan to ban smoking on beach and in parks in Pembrokeshire

    “Smoking could be banned in parks, sports grounds, playing fields, car parks and one beach in Pembrokeshire.

    The council is looking at trialling a plan to ban smoking on one, yet to be selected, beach in a bid to discourage young people from taking up the habit.”

    “De-normalization, as one researcher described it, is the use of rules to put societal pressure on “those who fail to aspire to a specific preferred image of the future self.”

    With outdoor smoking, the argument is no longer that the smoke physically harms bystanders. It’s that seeing people smoke is corrupting. De-normalizing it means shunning smoking from public view.”
    http: //

    Pembrokeshire Council may not want to go down this route because the only other time where people have been banned from being seen in parks and beaches that I can find so far, is under the Nuremberg Laws.

    1935-36 – banned from parks
    1938 – banned from beaches

  3. woodsy42 says:

    I have no doubt you are correct, but it’s not just smoking, or even the obvious other issues – global warming and health/food/cholesterol being clear parallels, and of course religion, which has always worked that way. It also affects almost every aspect of life down to virtully the level of fasionable thought and social attitude.
    Almost any aspect of life could become ‘unfashionable’ and eventually lead to calls to ban it by groups concentrating on the negative aspects – examples: Dog owning (risk of illness, nuisance, attack), Sports (injury costs to NHS and society), living in houses with spare bedrooms (anti-social space hogging) – you can already see the protest movements on the fringes because people are becoming more extreme and puritanical in their views.

  4. John Watson says:

    Working behind closed doors is almost normal, decisions made by politicians local and national are made behind closed doors with little, or biased or better still no public opinion, the judiciary also try cases behind closed doors wherever they can and almost always in the family division, businesses make their decisions affecting millions behind closed doors.

    Imagine the consequences of the education dept having to make decisions with parents present, they could have never have made the decisions they have, the fact that children could be taught something worthwhile or that justice may be seen to be done in open court, or that politicians would be accountable to the electorate are the most undesirable principles around today.

  5. Rose says:

    A very good question.

    Tobacco rulings and revenues: The numbers just don’t add up

    “Despite Quebec Superior Court Justice Brian Riordan’s ruling against Big Tobacco this week, plaintiffs should hold off on the celebration. So, too, should taxpayers and health advocates.”

    “It is fantasy to think that Canada can mimic the U.S. Master Settlement Agreement of 1999 – an agreement to transfer $250-billion to plaintiffs over a 25-year period. In that situation, tobacco tax rates were extremely low, and the asset values of manufacturers were enormous.”

    “Here, then, is the central problem: If the Canadian market is worth $10-billion to producers – admittedly a speculative estimate – where will we find the $100-billion claimed in all these suits?”

    • nisakiman says:

      “It is fantasy to think that Canada can mimic the U.S. Master Settlement Agreement of 1999 – an agreement to transfer $250-billion to plaintiffs over a 25-year period. In that situation, tobacco tax rates were extremely low, and the asset values of manufacturers were enormous.”

      But as I understand it, the Master Settlement Agreement didn’t actually cost the tobacco manufacturers a bean – they just added to the cost of a packet of cigarettes and let their customers stump up the dough. Which is what they would do in Canada if they lose the appeal.

      It’s all becoming increasingly ridiculous, this war on tobacco. Even if everything Tobacco Control claimed was true (and it’s patently obvious that most, if not all of it is utter tripe), I still can’t see the justification for the pogrom. There are so many other real problems in the world, and yet they expend untold amounts of energy and money trying to eradicate something that will never, ever be eradicated. They seem totally blind to the realities of the situation. It really is most perplexing.

      • Rose says:

        Nisakiman, I think it’s because they can’t back down, they may kid themselves that they are fighting the wicked tobacco companies, but tobacco companies would not exist if it wasn’t for the customer and we keep ignoring them.


        “There was a feeling on the part of many participants that fear had failed as an instrument of persuasion, that apathy among the public had developed with respect to claims concerning smoking and health and that, in many instances, the matter had been cast in terms of morals rather than health.

        I haven’t ignored anti-tobacco , I still adhere to the original government advice ” if you must smoke, take fewer puffs and leave longer stubs” somewhat expensive to follow now but I can see it’s merit, and I stopped buying any tobacco with additives some years ago.

      • Some French bloke says:

        the Master Settlement Agreement didn’t actually cost the tobacco manufacturers a bean – they just added to the cost of a packet of cigarettes and let their customers stump up the dough”

        Which means having each US smoker fork out approximately 70 cents extra per day for a period of 25 years and calling that “disgorgement of past profits” is yet another fib from the assembly lines of the TobCon lie factory.
        As far as the trial itself is concerned, the prosecution may have seemed exceptionally harsh (not even being under oath) but the sentence turned out to be remarkably mild for the accused!

        The idea of why the MSA has not yet been replicated outside the US raises some interesting questions:
        Who would have acted as prosecutor for those countries where tobacco was/is a state monopoly (as was the in France up till the 1970s)? How easily this one answers itself!

        If they’re so sure what Big Tobacco committed is nothing short of “premeditated genocide” when they failed to print dire warnings on their every package as soon as they somehow stumbled across the “awful truth” about their own products, why not stage a Nuremberg-type international trial? They know about “trials” (fake ones at least) and “international” (conferences). Could they be afraid of too much publicity?

  6. Rose says:

    “To most NHS patients Godber was almost unknown – only glimpsed when the media quoted his Jeremiads against smoking. But to colleagues he was anything but anonymous.

    A large man with a monocle and a shock of white hair, he had a reputation for somewhat puritanical plain speaking. But this was combined with a charismatic streak which won him the affection of his staff and the respect of his health service colleagues and ministers. During his time as health minister in the early 1960s, Enoch Powell referred to Godber as his “bodyguard and lightning conductor”.

    Chief Medical Officer who helped to found the NHS and fought tobacco use and promiscuity

    “Godber is probably best remembered for his public health campaigns in the 1960s against promiscuity and the cigarette, which he once described as “the most lethal instrument devised by man for peaceful use”

    “At first Godber’s campaigns against the noxious weed were treated as something of a joke in the Department of Health, but his nagging eventually began to have their effect on ministers, several of whom were persuaded to quit the habit. His efforts bore further fruit when cigarette advertising on television was banned in 1965.

    George Edward Godber was born on August 4 1908 to Bessie and Isaac Godber, a nurseryman who grew tomatoes under glass. He was educated at Bedford School before training as a medical student at New College Oxford, where he was twice in a losing Boat Race crew. The training regime ahead of his first race, in 1928, included a pint of beer at lunch and a glass of champagne after dinner, which Godber, a staunch teetotaller, refused. He was prescribed marshmallows instead.

    He went on to the London Hospital and the London School of Hygiene, qualifying in 1933.”

    He died in 2009 at the age of 100 and so therefore saw his life long ambition accomplished.

    “You really can’t expect to abolish smoking.” Godber replied: “No, but I want to see it reduced to an activity of consenting adults in private.”

    If you can call smoking out in the street private.

    • nisakiman says:

      The training regime ahead of his first race, in 1928, included a pint of beer at lunch and a glass of champagne after dinner, which Godber, a staunch teetotaller, refused.

      The guy sounds like a barrel of fun…

  7. beobrigitte says:

    More and more people are excluded, until in Moscow last year the WHO antismoking conference was entirely closed to the press and the public.

    This “conference” started on 13.10.14 and ended on 18.10.14. The press and public, indeed, found themselves excluded. And now the WHO itches to implement all that was decided behind closed doors, so it apologises (whilst at the same time pointing it’s finger to the rest of the world) for it’s utter failure to acknowledge, let alone act, when MSF no longer could cope with Ebola infected people in Africa.


    Didn’t Mrs Chan then state that “the tobacco epidemic” was far worse than the Ebola “crisis”?

    A couple of days ago Frank did find a BBC documentary (please refer to: ) which I did watch.
    Although this documentary is, in true BBC fashion, very wonderfully done, I thought that the BBC lies by omission.
    Sadly, I did discover that MSF has been “bought” by the WHO (please see my reply following the above link) and I am dismayed to discover that the WHO has NO respect for the people keeping them in a job!
    4. MSF involvement in clinical trials

    MSF is currently actively involved in three different studies in Guinea, focusing on three different aspects of the medical response: diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

    PREVENTION???? HOW does one prevent a micro-organism from mutating? This Ebola strain IS NOT(!!!) the ‘Sudan strain’!!! Anybody got an idea of what the next e.g. Ebola strain’s DNA profile; protein coat; etc.etc. looks like? REALLY???

    These days, indeed, everything concerning ADULTS (!) is decided behind closed doors and then the compliant megaphone BBC announces what has been dictated.
    This morning the BBC lamented that less women take up routine breast screening. What about routine testicle screening for men?
    Isn’t the NHS, as is, already overloaded with “routine” screenings and A&Es jam packed with people who no longer have a GP on call overnight (GPs do not wish to work during the night) so that seriously ill patients end up in a massive queue?
    What happens when the NHS has been brought down with “prevention” – basically 90% of healthily, apart from the abnormal fear experienced which has been induced by even more fearful people, ‘customers’ clogging up a system which worked well prior?

    I am getting a little dishearted looking for common sense in our politicians. Perhaps it’s the money and future security they can “earn” for THEMSELVES in 4 years which makes them into puppets of whatever fad is being fashionably lobbied?

    What do the (potential) voters know? Not much. It’s all decided behind closed doors. It’s time to kick these doors down!

  8. Smoking Lamp says:

    Still no sign of Harley here or on any of the other outlets. I like others hope he is well and enjoying a smoke wherever he is! I too miss him…

    • beobrigitte says:

      Harley is a bomb of information – either his computer has been shot down (which raises the issue of truth being brushed violently under the carpet) or he is having a holiday with his family.

      I’m sure Harley will let us know!

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