An article by Chris Snowdon about Public Health England in the Spectator:
Eating, drinking, smoking and lazing around are personal matters that may or may not have personal consequences. In the liberal tradition, this makes them nobody else’s business and, despite spurious claims about the cost of lifestyle-related diseases to the public purse, they are none of the government’s business either.
Needless to say, ‘public health professionals’ do not subscribe to the liberal tradition. As self-appointed guardians of our wellbeing, they will make us healthy whether we want to be or not.
Are they “self-appointed”? They’re paid very handsomely by the government, most of them, as far as I know. Doesn’t that mean that they’re government-appointed?
I could say that, as a blogger, I’m self-appointed. Nobody pays me to write anything.
And isn’t Chris Snowdon a self-appointed author? He’s written several books. I’ve even got a couple of them. Did anyone commission him to write them? I don’t believe so. I think he just wrote about things that interested him. Isn’t that what most authors do?
And might one not say that all authors are self-appointed? And also all artists and musicians as well? Did anyone commission Vincent van Gogh to paint all those sunflowers?
I suppose that musicians like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were actually commissioned to make records for the music industry. But at the outset, before they were famous, they were just a bunch of self-appointed musicians playing music that they liked.
Maybe even all real scientists are self-appointed as well. Or they used to be. Nobody commissioned Isaac Newton to investigate the laws of motion and gravitation or light. He was a professor of mathematics. But hardly anyone attended his lectures. All the motion and gravitation stuff was done in his own time. He was hired to teach mathematics, not to study physics. So he was a self-appointed physicist.
Same with Einstein when he worked in the patent office in Berne. He did all the relativistic thinking at home, after hours. So he was another self-appointed physicist.
Both of them were following their own noses, studying what they themselves were interested in, not somebody else.
The same was true of Darwin. Nobody commissioned him to write the Origin of Species.
These days, most scientists seem to be working in universities. And most of them seem to have been commissioned to investigate something or other. Back when I was a post-graduate in a university, I’d been commissioned to study heat flow in buildings by the Science Research Council. I had a job to do which was pretty highly defined. But in my own time (and I had plenty of it) I dreamt up Idle Theory. Nobody paid me to do that.
And perhaps it’s because most scientists have been commissioned to study one thing or other, and not follow their own noses wherever their curiosity takes them, that science seems to be going backwards, and more and more of it looks like pseudoscience.
After all, if you’ve been hired by somebody to find out how carcinogenic tobacco smoke is, or how hot the planet is going to get as a result of global warming, you have to come up with some findings about that. And you probably need to come up with the right sort of results while you’re about it. You can’t waltz off looking at something else. It won’t help your prospects of winning new research contracts if you find that, actually, tobacco is completely harmless, or global warming isn’t happening.
In fact, once you’re commissioned to do anything, you’re immediately very highly constrained.
And so all the people working in PHE are very highly constrained as well. They’ve been hired to find health risks everywhere, and that’s exactly what they do. If they don’t do the job they’re paid to do, they’ll soon be fired.
The same is probably true of Deborah Arnott and Stanton Glantz. I don’t know what kind of money Glantz gets paid, but according to Guido Fawkes she gets £160,000 a year as head of ASH. And her job is all about Action on Smoking and Health. And she does the job very well, doesn’t she? She’s very adept at getting herself in the news. It’s her job.
And it’s perfectly possible that both her and Stan have no belief whatsoever in what they’re doing. They’re doing a job because they’re being paid to do it. For all I know both of them might be secret smokers. But their job is to make life hard for smokers, and that’s exactly what they do. Just like it’s the job of soldiers to shoot at a designated enemy rather than be the compassionate human beings that most soldiers actually are when they’re off duty.
But back to the “self-appointed” guardians of our wellbeing, who are trying to make us healthy whether we want to be or not. Are they ever likely to make any of us any healthier? I think not. In fact, I think they’re very likely to create a public health catastrophe. In fact I think it’s inevitable that they will.
But that’s another topic.