Your annotation on “Dangers of Cigarette-smoking” leads
up to the demand that these hazards “must be brought home
to the public by all the modern devices of publicity” . That
is just what some of us with research interests are afraid of .
In recent wars, for example, we have seen how unscrupulously
the “modern devices of publicity” are liable to be used under
the impulsion of fear ; and surely the “yellow peril” of modern
times is not the mild and soothing weed but the organized
creation of states of frantic alarm.
Sir Ronald Fisher did not live to see his worst fears realised. He died in 1962, at a time when the contemporary antismoking onslaught was only beginning to gather momentum. Over the subsequent 50+ years, we have witnessed exactly the unscrupulous, organised
creation of the state of frantic alarm of which he was so afraid. And the result is that hundreds of millions of smokers all over the world are now being subjected to intensifying persecution, as they are excluded from society, fired from jobs, evicted from homes, and refused medical treatment.
In fact, it might be said that we now live in an era in which the organised creation of states of frantic alarm is more or less the normal procedure with every matter of current concern. So people are now being terrified not just about cigarettes, but about all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes which do not contain any tobacco. And they are being terrified about global warming and climate change and acid rain and ozone holes, and countless other things. For example hurricane Florence, currently crossing North Carolina as a tropical storm:
Death toll reaches five in North Carolina as ‘horrific nightmare’ storm path sparks Tornado and surge warnings
It cannot be just a storm: it must be exaggerated to become an ‘horrific nightmare’ storm.
Another feature of our modern Age of Terror is that the supposed hazards about which we are all to be warned are always presented as matters of perfect certainty, about which a consensus of experts are unanimously agreed. It is one of the strange oddities of our time that even though the statistical arguments used to make the case that smoking causes lung cancer are necessarily probabilistic and uncertain, it appears to be the case that the only thing about which more or less everyone is perfectly certain is that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. How is it that the branch of mathematics that deals with events of an uncertain or probabilistic nature has been able to generate such perfect certainty in the minds of a great many people?
Perhaps it’s that people cannot live with uncertainty. Perhaps they need to know, of any matter, that any statements being made about it are either categorically true or categorically untrue, and it’s not good enough to be told that some statement might be true. So the truthful statement that “Smoking may cause lung cancer (or may not)” has to become “Smoking most certainly causes lung cancer” before it becomes necessary that this incontrovertible fact “be brought home to the public by all the modern devices of publicity.” While the claim remains uncertain or probabilistic, decisive action cannot be taken. It needs to be made into a certainty before decisive and energetic action can be (and must be) taken, and the fact broadcast to everyone using all the modern devices of publicity.
Or perhaps it’s that some people can live with uncertainty, and some cannot. Over the past year I’ve been entertaining the idea that there is a natural cyclical process of global cooling and warming that generates ice ages and interglacial warm periods with almost clockwork regularity. Am I certain about it? Not at all. I also believe that the Chelyabinsk fireball of 2013 was a distant companion of asteroid 2012 DA14, which passed the Earth on the same day. Am I certain about that? Not in the least bit. Am I bothered about being uncertain? No. I’m very used to being uncertain. Uncertainty seems to me to be a fact of life with which people must live. There is uncertainty about everything, not just ice ages and asteroids. The best I can manage is a degree of conviction that waxes and wanes from day to day, and sometimes even from hour to hour. So I will most likely never become a zealot predicting an imminent ice age, because I will never be sufficiently certain about it to do so.
Others may have less compunction, however. And I can well imagine that all those zealots who now promote global warming alarmism with perfect certainty will soon be doing exactly the same with global cooling, as they effortlessly replace one perfect certainty with another.