H/T Smokingscot, who yesterday drew attention to an interesting piece in Anti-THR Lies by astrophysicist Roberto A Sussman, written in response to a recent editorial – Blog Fog – in Tobacco Control magazine, in which the editors stated that they would not be responding to criticism voiced in external blogs. Any such criticism, they declared, would have to be confined to their Rapid Responses section, and “should be succinctly written without emotive language and be respectful to the authors of the original publication.”
I very much doubt that I am one of the disrespectful external bloggers that they have in mind, if only because I can’t remember any occasion when I have voiced criticism of any particular article in Tobacco Control magazine, for the very simple reason that I don’t read the filthy little magazine. I instead merely restrict myself to regularly calling for the complete destruction of Tobacco Control (by which I mean not only this particular magazine, but the entire global network of antismoking activism, all the way up to the Secretary General of the World Health Organisation), and the transportation of its practitioners to Desolation Island.
What interested me most about Sussman, the astrophysicist, was that his article seemed to maybe herald the arrival of real science – the science of physics – in the vexed debate about tobacco. For I often wonder why such people – real scientists – are almost entirely absent from that debate.
Moderated internet sites (such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory LANL arXiv site) have become a regular and very handy communication channel in physical and mathematical sciences and are fully as serious as journals; researchers can upload material not yet published in a journal (under review), or not intended to be published in a journal, to induce an open discussion of fresh (even controversial or unorthodox) ideas without the constraints of the formal review process. Blogs and Facebook pages exist in all disciplines that serve as useful complementary spaces where research issues can be discussed either informally, or with varying degrees of rigor, mostly involving scientists and graduate students, but also educated non-scientists that may be interested.
So, he was saying that blogs have a place in science, and that Tobacco Control’s exclusion of them was completely unwarranted. In fact, he was utterly scathing of Tobacco Control, which was
“a travesty of a science journal”
“methodologically deficient articles”
and populated with
“public health researchers involved in tobacco/nicotine research … acting with gross dishonesty”
But he was at pains to distinguish between “scholarly bloggers” and “cranks and crackpots” in social media. The former were to be listened to, the latter excluded.
These bloggers, as well as most readers commenting on their posts, may be critical but are not on denial of the health risks from smoking, particularly cigarette smoking. As far as I can tell, very few of the bloggers and readers advocate the return to the old days when smoking was almost unregulated and allowed everywhere. Instead, all bloggers and readers express a generalised desire for a more humane regulation of tobacco smoking (and now of vaping), with the right of nonsmokers to smoke-free environments being respected, but also demanding that smokers (and vapers) must be able to enjoy public indoor spaces where they can smoke/vape without being shamed and vilified by “denormalization” policies.
This is the point where I part company with Carl Phillips’ THR, and most likely join the ranks of the “cranks and crackpots”. For I am one of those very few bloggers who does regard smoking as a completely harmless pastime, and who does indeed advocate a return to the good old days when smoking was more or less completely unregulated. I happen to also think, shocking as it may seem, that eating hamburgers and drinking beer are also completely harmless pastimes, which are no more in need of regulation than smoking is. I am sick to death of all these regulators who are forever discovering minuscule amounts of harm in one or other product or pastime, and imposing restrictions and regulations upon them. And THR – Tobacco Harm Reduction – implies that there is indeed harm in tobacco, and that it needs reduction. And so THR also implies regulation, if only “a more humane regulation.” The only real difference between THR and the antismoking extremists in Tobacco Control lies in the degree of regulation that they wish to impose on smoking. And who is to say what is and is not “humane”? Couldn’t Tobacco Control claim that they are already treating smokers perfectly humanely, and have always done so? After all, they don’t throw smokers out of the windows of tall buildings like the Islamic State throws homosexuals. They don’t even wish to completely prohibit the sale of tobacco. How much more humane can you get?
It won’t do. Away with all of them, I say: Carl Phillips must be transported to Desolation Island along with all the rest of the regulators – who will include Michael Siegel and Clive Bates -, aboard the leaking hulk of a rat-infested prison ship. En route to the island on that slow boat, high status detainees like Margaret Chan and Stanton Glantz and Deborah Arnott and Simon Chapman will be allowed to periodically promenade on the open deck, and even play deck quoits. All the rest must be kept in irons below. The regulators must themselves be regulated. Humanely.
And I wonder whether the attempt by Tobacco Control to simply ignore critical blogs and bloggers is likely to be successful anyway. Would an announcement by the New York Times that it was henceforth going to ignore Twitter, and the “cranks and crackpots” who tweet there, succeed in insulating them effectively from, say, Donald Trump? I doubt it. I’m sure that Tobacco Control ignores me and my blog as much as it possibly can. But will that prevent me exerting any influence? I doubt it.