The Private Language of Public Health

Continuing along yesterday’s theme, I’ve been taking an interest in the Royal Society for Public Health’s Re-thinking the Public Health Workforce, which is all about trying to co-opt various unrelated professions (the ‘wider workforce’) to advance public health interests in the ordinary course of their work – e.g. health tips from barmaids.

My interest today lay mostly in the English that it employed, which seemed to be a sort of private language or jargon adopted by Public Health professionals, which is quite unlike simple, plain English.

For a start, there seem to be a number of words that are routinely used in these circles, which include ongoing, stakeholder, workshop, sustainability, challenge, engagement, intervention, and commitment, among others. These words seem to act primarily as badges to identify the authors as members of a select group of Public Health insiders. And these words can be strung together in more or less any order to to construct impressive combinations of words without any identifiable meaning (e.g. ongoing stakeholder workshop sustainability).

One example from fairly early in the text:

Tapping into this diverse range of human contact could provide significant opportunities to promote health messages and initiate or embed behaviour change through healthy conversations and signposting to other services.

What on earth are healthy conversations? On the face of it this would seem to be conversations which steer clear of unhealthy topics (e.g. war, sex, drugs). But what is probably meant is health-related conversations (i.e. conversations about health) which have the aim of changing people’s behaviour permanently (this is probably the meaning of embed). And signposting probably means giving people the phone  number of a smoking helpline.

The authors show signs of being aware that there is a problem with the language they use. For they have found that even the term public health (another ambiguous term) is not widely understood:

A primary concern identified across the entire engagement process was the need for the wider workforce commitment to speak the same language. For many wider workforce professions, there is a lack of understanding and familiarity with the term ‘public health’. This is a considerable barrier to further engagement and development as many professions will lack an awareness of how their role relates to public health and the potential impact of their work. Positioning the contribution of the wider workforce as promoting ‘wellbeing’ instead of ‘public health’ has been suggested as a more widely understood alternative.

There is also no suggestion that the wider workforce will be remunerated for their efforts in pushing health messages – because no extra work is required:

Many of the case studies demonstrate that, rather than increasing workload, this can actually be a natural extension of their work and over the long-term make it less demanding.

Then there is the question of moral scruples that some people in the wider workforce might have.

Kemble Housing, for example, found that their staff were initially uneasy about having healthy conversations and were concerned that they may be seen to be ‘judging people’ and telling them what to do. To overcome this challenge, the case studies demonstrate that involving staff in the development of wider workforce initiatives is essential. This encourages a feeling of ownership and also aids understanding of the projects. The GMFRS found that it was important to ‘ensure that a uniformed member of staff is seen to support the initiative and preferably be present during the initial briefing sessions’. The case studies also demonstrate that it is vital to ensure that there is strong strategic leadership.

“Judging people and telling them what to do” is of course what Public Health is all about, and what it does all the time. But they can never openly say so. And this is probably one of the main reasons for employing ambiguous jargon which serves to conceal the true purposes.

The moral question posed by Kemble Housing staff is not addressed directly, of course. That would give the game away. Instead the ‘challenge’ is to circumnavigate such moral scruples by getting people involved in the design of new ‘initiatives’, and ensuring that authority figures show support for these initiatives.  People will go along with something if they’re all in it together, and everyone concerned approves. In this manner, ordinary people can be successfully converted into interfering busybodies.

One of the key goals of Public Health professionals is to get other people to do their dirty work for them, unpaid. And this is what the document is essentially all about. In the case of Tobacco Control, it was the proprietors of bars and cafes who were successfully co-opted as unpaid policemen to ensure that nobody smoked on their premises. The Tobacco Control professionals never had to do it themselves. And the same will probably be true when it comes to initiating healthy conversations. Public Health intends to co-opt other people to do that, once again without pay. They are to act as the puppet-masters of their co-opted puppets.

Since the goal of Public Health is to initiate or embed behaviour change, it seems likely that its practitioners are behaviourists of some kind. Behaviourists assert that the only thing we really know about other people is how they behave, and we have no direct knowledge of any thought processes they might have, which are invisible, and which may not exist at all.

Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion. Observable (i.e. external) behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured. Internal events, such as thinking should be explained through behavioral terms (or eliminated altogether).

Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control.

This may explain the complete lack of interest by Public Health practitioners in what anybody might think or feel about their various interfering initiatives. They have no empathy whatsoever for the subjects of their social engineering programs, any more than for lab rats in a maze. They can’t put themselves in the shoes of the people they browbeat and bully.

This does however suggest that they might take notice of at least one kind of observable external behaviour which they can objectively and scientifically measure: to wit, a fist in the face.

About Frank Davis

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44 Responses to The Private Language of Public Health

  1. magnetic01 says:

    “….it seems likely that its practitioners are behaviourists of some kind.”

    Beautiful, Frank.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Thanks. I was wondering what you’d say.

      But you usually call these people ‘materialists’, don’t you? I’m not sure if a behaviourist is also a materialist.

      I was thinking today that I’m not a behaviourist because, although I can’t see what people are thinking, I know that I think and feel. And so I always suppose that other people have thoughts and feelings too. And furthermore, what they say indicates that they have thoughts and feelings just like mine.

      In a purely physical analogy, I know that my car has got an engine under its bonnet, because I’ve raised the hood and looked at it. And I always suppose that other cars have got engines under their bonnets as well, even though I can’t see them. But a behaviourist motorist wouldn’t make this assumption.

      Equally a behaviourist astronomer would not suppose that, when the sun sets, and he can no longer see it, that it has any continued existence.

      • magnetic01 says:

        But you usually call these people ‘materialists’, don’t you? I’m not sure if a behaviourist is also a materialist.

        Behaviourists fit into the materialist/physicalist framework. Behaviourists are physicalists/materialists whose specialty is the overt conditioned and, therefore, changeable behaviour of biological organisms such as humans. In this framework there is no mind, spirit, God. It strips from the human all but the physical. A human is no more than a collection of conditioned behaviors that can be added to and modified. The analogy with lab rats is quite apt. Humans are viewed simply as biological organisms somewhat more complex than a rat and with a wider range of behaviors, but just a biological organism nonetheless. And in this sterile, de-humanized framework do they expect humans to fit, forcibly if necessary. They can dress it up with nice sounding, albeit vacuous, jargon all they want. It doesn’t change the perversity of the framework. In physicalism/behaviorism, humans are viewed only in group or “herd” terms. It’s literally like raising livestock for [physical] work capacity, breeding and longevity. The idea of individual autonomy doesn’t exist. Control is all top-down. A self-installed elite (because somehow they believe they’re “better” than everyone else – a “god” complex – not explainable in behaviourist terms) declares what behaviours are acceptable and everyone must follow. It’s entirely antithetical to the idea of a relatively free society.

        There are obviously quite a few problems with behaviourism, specifically, and physicalism, generally, at a philosophical level that I won’t go into here. But I say in the most sober, sincere manner possible that this is a very dangerously shallow framework and mentality.

        Behaviorists have no awareness of their own minds. They have not developed self-scrutiny. They have no grasp of the multi-dimensions of the human condition. They have no capacity for empathy. Yet they believe that they should be socially engineering humanity. They have no shame in believing they are better than everyone else. That’s why they want to control everyone; it’s part of their superficiality, their ignorance, and their incompetence. I’d go as far as saying that behaviorists are in a psychopathological, retarded condition made up of a cluster of dysfunctions.

        Here’s the bad news. Behaviourism has been allowed to flourish in universities, government health bureaucracies, Public Health, and educational systems the world over, not to mention internationalist organizations such as the UN, EU. This is the current worldly condition. It’s sad to say that, from where I see it, the world is going to undergo great upheaval before this scourge is uprooted and sensibility restored.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Behaviourism has been allowed to flourish in universities, government health bureaucracies, Public Health, and educational systems the world over, not to mention internationalist organizations such as the UN, EU.

          “Allowed” is the key word in that sentence. And even though I spent many happy years in university, I’m beginning to think that we’ve got far too many of them, and we should just close most of them down. They seem to have become the breeding grounds of pestilence, in which any number of mad ideas can flourish on the taxpayer’s dime. And we really don’t need them. They contribute nothing to society. In fact, they detract from it.

          In the UK, Public Health seems to flourish in the new minor universities rather than the major ones (like Oxford and Cambridge). And the global warming scare seems to be centred in the University of East Anglia. Most of these ‘universities’ have only appeared in the last 20 years.

          The principal weakness of all the organisations you list is that they’re dependent on the taxpayer. And they all demand more and more from the taxpayer. If there’s an economic crash (and we’re very arguably in a slow motion crash right now) it will in part be one that has been caused by them. Once the spigot of public money is turned off, because there’s no money left, they’ll all vanish overnight.

  2. Smoking Lamp says:

    Sounds like ‘newspeak’ to me. Using language to facilitate totalitarian control…

  3. smokervoter says:

    Frank, there are times when I think we’re twins separated at birth.

    All of these words you’ve mentioned trip my off switch when I encounter them. The speaker, the writer, the blank-faced elitist utterer iimmediately ceases to exist to me. I go into red fog mode. I would only add the words ‘inappropriate’ and ‘appropriate’ (usually used in conjunction with ‘behavior’) to the list.

    First they cease to exist and then I want to pulverize them into molecular detritus.

    I was going to comment on yesterday’s posting but I ran out of time to get my thoughts together. Your concluding sentence today basically summed up the gist of what I would have said. I would have told the offending health badgering barkeeper that boxing happened to be my favorite health and fitness regimen and would he like to go a few rounds with me.

    This whole crummy healthist/medical academia idea they’re proposing stinks of Choice Architecture. Cass Sunstein and his mannish UN delegate wife know what’s best for all of us and have devised a passive-aggressive, painless way to break it to us gently. What disgusting hubris. The fact that David Cameron jumped on their bandwagon says a lot about him and it’s not good.

    All of these people had this as their favorite playtoy as kids. They noticed that they could take a pencil and strategically block certain ant tunnels and create a nice, orderly straight line of transit for the subjects. Instantly, they went from the class swot to the big man on campus.

    Uncle Milton really needs to contact someone new to create their website for them. You have to scroll waaay down to get to the ant farms.

    Order live harvester ants online!* !!!

    • smokervoter says:

      Escape proof !

      Just what these healthist mongrel dogs are after.

    • Frank Davis says:

      ‘inappropriate’ and ‘appropriate’

      Yup. Those trip my alarms too. Also “unacceptable” and (I suppose) “acceptable”.

      • margo says:

        Me too (well, now you’ve got me started – other irritating and meaningless words that drive me mad include ‘further’ for ‘more’, ‘ahead of” for ‘before, ‘robust’ for god-knows-what(meetings, decisions, all ‘robust’ these days, have you noticed?) I’ve got a lovely vision of my doctor (and my dentist) going to a restaurant for a meal after work and being told by the waiter “I don’t think the profiteroles are a wise choice – after all, you had quite a calorie-heavy starter, and surely you should be working on losing a bit of that tummy!”

        • jay says:

          Private companies these days use the ghastly term “customer journey” (yuk). I searched Frank’s piece to find out what the authors called the victims of their unwanted intervention and couldn’t find anything – is that indicative of them giving no consideration at all to the objects of their zeal?

        • Frank Davis says:

          If they’re behaviourists, they’re only interested in behaviour, not in what people think or feel. The complete lack of consideration follows from that.

        • nisakiman says:

          I rather like the word ‘robust’! I’ve been using it to good effect for at least 40 years. It can encompass many things, and the meaning is clear. Vigorous; hearty; sturdy; the word conjures up a multitude of positives.

  4. waltc says:

    The proposal and its proposed means of implementation, complete with the approving presense of a uniformed Authority Figure, reminds me of the famous experiment (name evades me right now but you’ll know it) where supposedly normal people were encouraged to give fearsome electric shocks to people who were messing up on a test. Nor did they stop when the shocked people screamed in (carefully-acted) pain. If encouraged by Authorities to feel that they’re part of a righteous crusade- an army of The Good– who knows what people can be encouraged to do. Consider the Gestapo. This recruitment itself relies on a lot of behaviorst theory: that people can be manipulated to do the unconscionable. And–most unfortunately– many people can.

  5. Rose says:

    Tapping into this diverse range of human contact could provide significant opportunities to promote health messages and initiate or embed behaviour change through healthy conversations and signposting to other services

    It sounds like they want to wear other people like a mask.

  6. Twisted Root says:

    I’m starting to think they might be psychopaths. They are incapable of seeing anyone else as having agency or the ability to think critically. They certainly don’t think they are doing anything wrong and they don’t lose a wink of sleep over the harm they cause. Public health provides the perfect vehicle for them to indulge their empathy-free activities, so of course they flock to it.

  7. prog says:

    One could be forgiven for thinking the Royal tag implies a long history. It was spawned in 2008, probably part of Brown’s legacy – quangos/charities such as this to be run by Nu Labour cronies to ensure future influence over the pretend Tories.

    Worked a fucking treat.

    Cramer also chairs this pile of shit.

  8. Rose says:

    I’ll just leave this one with you.

    I don’t predict a riot: jail smoking ban need not spell unrest
    by Deborah Arnott

    “A letter from a non-smoking prisoner with lung cancer, distraught because he was forced to share his cell with smokers, convinced me that smoking in prisons is an issue of human rights. If anything, more so than in public places such as pubs and bars because prisoners have no choice about whether to be there or not.

    Yet every time the idea of a ban is raised in the media, the headlines inevitably focus on fears of unrest and riots, rather than the health and wellbeing of inmates and staff.

    The hypothesis that depriving smokers of tobacco could destabilise prisons may sound plausible, but there is little evidence to back it up. In fact, many prisons around the world have gone smoke-free with few problems, particularly if, as in New Zealand, this is accompanied by measures such as nicotine replacement therapy to support those who quit.

    It is true that smoking rates are higher in prison. Up to 80 per cent of prisoners in the UK are tobacco users, which means that the level of exposure to second-hand smoke is very high. Furthermore, surveys show that most jailed smokers, like any other smokers, want to quit. In New Zealand, over half who quit while behind bars intended to keep this up on release.”

    “Smoking is an expensive addiction that leads to early death for 100,000 smokers every year, with 20 times as many suffering from smoking-related diseases and disability, and second-hand smoke has been shown to cause cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

    The cultural change that has taken place everywhere else in society needs to be extended to prisons so that inmates and staff no longer have to put up with the harm caused by second-hand smoke.

    After it happens, just as with pubs and bars going smoke-free, we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.”

    “The privately run Parc Prison in Bridgend, Wales, is also set to go smoke-free from February 2016 after a recent legal challenge forced the government’s hand there. The time has come for a process to be put in place to roll out the idea nationally.”

    Hopefully she will be seconded to Parc Prison to help out.

    • Frank Davis says:

      The cultural change that has taken place everywhere else in society needs to be extended to prisons so that inmates and staff no longer have to put up with the harm caused by second-hand smoke. After it happens, just as with pubs and bars going smoke-free, we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.

      It’s not a ‘cultural’ change. It’s a draconian new law. Culturally, I haven’t changed at all. I’m just excluded now, and a lot angrier.

      • Joe L. says:

        Damn right, Frank. I’m beyond pissed off. This is yet another brazen exposure of the true social engineering agenda of Arnott, et al. They don’t give a shit about health, they want to change our culture, and now they’re trying to brainwash people into believing it’s already happened.

        Rose – I agree they should send Arnott to Parc Prison to help with the transition. She shouldn’t mind. After all, it’s only a few “fussy” prisoners.

      • gdf1 says:

        Same here.

    • Rose says:

      What I was wondering was why she had written this in the New Scientist.

      Perhaps she was replying to this article from yesterday, but in a less obvious place.

      Prison smoking ban could cause ‘stability issues’

      “Banning smoking in prisons in England and Wales could make them more unstable, the Prison Governors Association (PGA) has warned.
      Ministers are drawing up plans to convert the first jails to be smoke-free next year.

      PGA president Andrea Albutt “cautiously” welcomed the move but said it must be done in a “safe and staged” way as 80% of prisoners smoked.
      The Ministry of Justice said safety and security remained its “top” priorities.

      The government intends to ban smoking in all 136 prisons in England and Wales to reduce health risks – it is currently allowed only in prison cells and exercise yards.
      The move follows a series of legal challenges by prison officers and inmates who have complained about the effects of passive smoking.”

      Ex-inmate’s view
      “Razor Smith, who served three decades in prison for a spate of armed robberies, said:

      I served time in a juvenile prison in the 70s where there was no smoking and I can tell you… there was a great black market in tobacco goods.
      There’s a black market in anything, in any banned goods.
      Whether you like it or not, tobacco is a way of dealing with stress and a lot of prisoners smoke.

      If you were to take it away from them, after they’ve had it for so many years, it becomes like a war of attrition with the prison system and they then see the prison system as taking something away that is legitimate, that you’re allowed to do outside – and obviously there will be violence.

      They tried it in Australia a couple of weeks ago I think and there was an immediate riot.”

      But then again I haven’t read all 364 comments and may be doing her a disservice.

      • Rose says:

        How this seems to have started tipped by someone in the comments on the previous link.

        Prisoner wins landmark ruling to ban smoking in jail
        5 Mar 2015

        “Paul Black, who is held at HMP Wymott in Lancashire, says he suffers from a range of health problems made worse by second-hand smoke”

        “The judge rejected Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s argument that the 2006 Health Act, which makes smoking a criminal offence in enclosed public places and workplaces, does not “bind the Crown” and does not apply in state prisons.

        Mr Justice Singh, sitting in London, declared: “In my judgment it is clear from the terms of the 2006 Act…that the intention of Parliament was indeed that it should apply to all public places and workplaces which fell within its scope, including those for which the Crown is responsible.”
        http: //

        Repeat Blackburn sex offender wins landmark ruling to ban smoking in jail
        6 March 2015

        “In 2007, Black, then 48 and of Preston New Road, was given an indeterminate sentence after carrying out a sex act on a train from York to Burnley.
        He also has several previous convictions for violent and sexual assault, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl from Blackburn, and the rape of an 18-year-old girl in Rossendale.

        Black was ordered to serve at least 192 days before being considered for parole, a sentence described as ‘ridiculous and disgusting’ by his victim, who said he would re-offend if he was released.

        However, he cannot be released on licence from HMP Wymott until the Parole Board decides he is no longer a danger to the public.”

        “Although Black did not win a ruling prisoners were specifically entitled to access the NHS anti-smoking hotline, the judge said the justice secretary should reconsider the issue in light of the ruling.”

  9. harleyrider1978 says:

    ‘Kill the Poor’ — The Left’s Secret Love Affair with Eugenics | The Stream

    Democrat defenders of Planned Parenthood cite poverty reduction as a reason to fund mass murder and sterilization; their eugenic roots are showing.

  10. harleyrider1978 says:

    Costas Kitis‎Smokers Against Discrimination

    3 hrs ·


    This is the great news – the French Senate rejected generic tobacco packaging!

  11. garyk30 says:

    ” And these words can be strung together in more or less any order to to construct impressive combinations of words without any identifiable meaning (e.g. ongoing stakeholder workshop sustainability).

    Ummm, baffle folks with ‘Bullshit’.

    • garyk30 says:

      Such cloudiness with words is a must when;
      on one hand a woman has a right to have an abortion because it is her body and she can do with it as she feels she wants

      on the other hand, others must follow ‘public health’ dictatorship as to what they should do with their bodies.

  12. Rose says:

    This should set the cat amongst the pigeons.

    NHS bosses paid by drug firms

    “Senior NHS staff are being paid thousands of pounds and taken on expensive trips by drug companies lobbying to get their products used by the health service, the Daily Telegraph can reveal”

    Or maybe not.


    “ASH has worked closely with both Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham staff and always welcomed the
    active collaboration. I hope to continue this with the merged company.
    We have worked with GSK under the auspices of the WHO-Europe Partnership Project on tobacco dependence and at various one-off opportunities. ASH was instrumental in securing greater government commitment to smoking cessation products in the NHS National Plan and we have helped with PR for both Zyban and Niquitin CQ.”

    “Most of the measures that drive people to want to quit smoking and use GSK products are
    exactly those that are opposed by tobacco companies. Such measures include:

    Restrictions on smoking in public places and workplaces

    Marketing restrictions on tobacco companies

    Higher tobacco taxation

    Greater NHS involvement in smoking cessation

    Regulatory measures to be applied to tobacco produ

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Anti-smoking experts paid by Big Pharma

      Posted on November 8, 2014 by Frank Davis

      Another article by Klaus K:

      November, 2014: Original Danish article Klaus K blog: Anti-ryge eksperter var betalt af Big Pharma

      ¤ Surgeon General editors received pharma money for decades

      ¤ Top experts must leave advisory panel: Massive conflicts of interest

      ¤ Judge: Close ties with Glaxo & Pfizer make their advice “suspect”

      By Klaus K, researcher


      A court case in Washington DC has revealed massive conflicts of interest with three prominent anti-tobacco experts who were on the payroll of the pharmaceutical industry, while they were designated by the US government as scientific editors of the official “Surgeon General” reports on tobacco. These include the report “Nicotine Addiction” in 1988, and the report on secondhand smoke in 2006.

      For decades the three experts received money from the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, which casts serious doubt on the work of the experts. The two drug companies achieved significant economic benefits from of the experts’ conclusions in the reports.
      Surgeon General 2006 on passive smoking: The senior scientific editor had close financial ties to giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline
      Surgeon General 2006 on passive smoking: The senior scientific editor had close financial ties to giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline

      This is particularly the case with the conclusions of the Surgeon 2006 report on passive smoking which had the prominent anti-tobacco expert, Dr. Jonathan Samet as “senior scientific editor”.

      His final conclusion in the report was that passive smoking poses a mortal threat, which could only be countered with a total smoking ban, but this conclusion is disputed by many researchers in the field.

  13. smokingscot says:

    Another word they’ve hijacked:


    and mutilated its meaning.

  14. harleyrider1978 says:

    UVM researchers study smoking moms

    Posted: Jul 23, 2015 11:24 AM CDT

    Vermont researchers are studying why poor young mothers smoke and how to help them kick the habit.

    The University of Vermont will use a $3.5 million federal grant to focus on female smokers with kids 11 or younger. They will study various quitting methods, including offering financial incentives.

    Researchers say almost 85 percent of American children from low-income families are chronically exposed to secondhand smoke, usually by their mothers. Studies show disadvantaged women begin smoking at an earlier age, are heavier smokers and are more likely to fail at quitting.

    comments somebody tear there lying asses up

    Charlotte Benedict
    I have zero tolerance for people who smoke, drink or do drugs while pregnant or nursing or people who smoke cigarettes or pot around children. I strongly feel it is neglect!

    Beverly Frost · Sheffield, Vermont
    Have a nicotine test for all welfare and food stamp parents. If you can afford to smoke you can afford to feed your family. I work at a food shelf and see so many who are getting free food smoking while waiting in line. I see so many young children trapped in a car with smoking parents. And for all of you who object to high welfare costs, smoking costs are higher for those exposed to tobacco smoke. Put the smokers on a six month antismoking program and cut off benefits if they don’t quit. Maybe they will have to lose their children if they don’t shape up. It’s not easy to quit but it can be done. The best deterrent I can remember was seeing a piece of healthy lung and one from a smoker. Even an untrained eye could see the difference and tell the nasty lung from a clean, healthy one.

    Emily Pawulak Houston · Clinical Research Coordinator at UVM College of Medicine
    losing your children for smoking may be extreme, but I can understand how frustrating it is to see people who are barely feeding their families, throwing their money away at cigarettes. If someone is smoking a pack a day, that must be about $50-60 each week! That could certainly buy a few groceries.

  15. Pingback: When the Music’s Over? Good Vibrations… | Library of Libraries

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