The Two Great Truths of the Modern Era

The Two Great Truths of the modern world are, firstly, that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and secondly, that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming. Both are regarded as being the kind of Settled Science of which only the ignorant and uneducated are unaware.

And if there is one difference between “Progressives” and “Conservatives”, it is that progressive people will readily accept and adopt every advance in Science as soon as they are announced, while conservative people will not immediately accept new scientific doctrines.

And we are at present witnessing in France the collision between a progressive French President, Emmanuel Macron, and the rather more conservative French people. For Emmanuel Macron is someone who has accepted and adopted both the doctrine that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and the doctrine that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming – while it would appear that a great many French people have not. As far as Macron is concerned, these Two Great Truths are simply Settled Science. And he probably believes that if the French people were as educated and enlightened as he himself is, they would understand and accept the necessity of stamping out smoking, and stamping out carbon dioxide.

Almost everybody (in the western world at least) believes that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer because they have been incessantly told this by doctors and epidemiologists and scientists and pundits and the mass media for the past 70 years and more. The doctrine that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer swept the western world in the 1950s, and had become Settled Science by the mid-1960s. Hardly any sceptics (like Sir Ronald Fisher) managed to hold out for very long against the triumphant advance of the New Science.

The doctrine that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming has not been quite so successful in its triumphant advance. For if there are considerable numbers of believers in this new doctrine, there are also considerable numbers of sceptics or “deniers”. And this may simply be because, unlike with the other Great Truth, scientists and pundits and the mass media have only been aggressively promoting the doctrine for the past 30 years, rather than the past 70+ years. And it may also be that, in the age of the pluralistic and conversational internet, it has become impossible for a single megaphone mass media message to be broadcast for public consumption.

One of the interesting things about the Two Great Truths is that the most widely accepted of the two – that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer – is actually the least scientific. For it’s a doctrine that rests entirely on a probabilistic and statistical argument, which is that the rise in cigarette smoking in the western world was followed a few decades later by a rise in the incidence of lung cancer, and that the first of these events was the cause of the second. But the proponents of this idea have never offered any causal explanation for this. They have never explained exactly how smoking causes lung cancer, how tobacco smoke enters into cells and causes them to multiply explosively in numbers. Nor have they ever offered any explanation why some smokers (e.g. Jeanne Calment) did not contract lung cancer despite smoking for almost all their very long lives.

The second Great Truth – that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming – is a doctrine which offers a causal explanation for the warming, which is that carbon dioxide absorbs long wave radiation from the warm surface of the Earth, preventing its escape to outer space, and resulting in the warming of the atmosphere  of the Earth.  This is a far more scientific explanation, and it is also generally not accompanied by probabilistic and statistical arguments. And the argument between global warming alarmists and sceptics is generally not about whether the warming is happening in the manner described, but rather about the degree to which the warming is happening, and the dangers posed by it.

The fact that there is a scientific explanation for global warming has allowed me to construct my own rather simple computer simulation model of the Earth, with the Sun shining on its surface, and heat being radiated from the warm surface into the atmosphere.  Some 40 years ago I used to build heat flow models of this sort, so I have a fairly good idea how to do it. And I have seen the warming happening in my model, when I increase the absorptivity of its atmosphere: Cranking the absorptivity of the atmosphere up to its maximum can result in 20 – 30ºC rises in air temperatures. But such maximum absorptivities would seem to only be found with very high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere (like on Venus where the atmosphere is almost entirely carbon dioxide, and the planet is very hot). It’s not clear to me that the far lower concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, in the order of a few hundred parts per million, are sufficient to produce such high rises in temperature.

However it’s not possible for me (or anyone else) to build a computer simulation model of the flow of tobacco smoke into human lungs, and thence into lung cells, and thence to interfere in the processes of cell growth and division, because there are no detailed explanations of the process. There’s no science that can be modelled and replicated. There is only the assertion that, somehow or other, tobacco smoke causes some lung cells to multiply rapidly.

So there’s the odd circumstance that the first Great Truth, which everybody believes, and about which there is no public debate whatsoever, rests upon the most tenuous mathematical foundations – while the second Great Truth, which a great many people do not believe, and is the subject of highly contentious public debate, rests upon a remarkably solid and detailed scientific foundation.

But perhaps this might explain why there is such a spirited debate about the one, but dead silence about the other. For it is only possible to argue against any explanation of anything if there actually is some sort of coherent explanation. For once the climate scientists set out their detailed explanations of how global warming could happen, it became possible to question many of the assumptions underlying their model (e.g. the sensitivity of air temperatures to CO2 concentrations), and to point out the failures of their simulation models (all of which seem to predict far more warming than is actually happening). But because there is no explanation whatsoever of how smoking causes lung cancer, it is quite impossible to question the assumptions underlying this model, or its failures to replicate the real world. For there is no explanation, and there is no model. There is just the dogmatic assertion, now widely printed on tobacco products, that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.

About Frank Davis

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14 Responses to The Two Great Truths of the Modern Era

  1. Smoking Lamp says:

    The widespread belief that smoking causes lung cancer is more the result of relentless propaganda and social engineering than hard science. There are many discernible flaws about the proposition that are brutally repressed by the tobacco control lobby. That repression in itself suggests ethical shortfalls in the data. The numerous tobacco control lies and falsified (and/or exaggerated outcomes) suggest the belief is indeed dogma based on ideology and prejudice rather than science. After all the incidence of lung cancer among non-smokers continues to rise as smoking rates decrease, the post-ban ‘heart attack miracles’ have been repeatedly discredited yet are still trumpeted as true every time a new ban is in the wings, the rate of asthma has increased as smoking rates decrease, and the largest studies of second hand smoke (along with about 70 other studies) show the opposite of the standard tobacco control claims. The fact that the results of tobacco control studies are presented as indisputable before the research is complete and in some cases even started shows a political agenda rather than scientific endeavor. The results of the Whitehall studies suggest street rather than smoking were the key contributors in heart disease. In the cases of dissenting information, the data is typically ignored and the researchers attacked. The suppression of dissent, as previously stated, is the greatest indicator that the anti-tobacco crusade is just that a neo-Puritan crusade.

    • Mark Jarratt, Canberra, Australia says:

      Yes prohibitionist tobacco control activists wage a puritanical moral crusade impervious to reason, determined to suppress confounding evidence contradicting their propaganda. The prohibitionists and authoritarian legislators are also never held to account for their illiberal socially divisive failed policies (why is it that tobacco controls seem to have sacred cow status, always evading objective scrutiny by for example the Auditor-General?).
      Any reviews are hopelessly compromised, like the “plain packs” post implementation review in Australia, conducted by one of the health cultist academics who initially lobbied to introduce such grotesque insulting ugliness.
      That review predictably found propaganda packs were highly successful at a cost of over $1M, paid for with excessive taxes extorted from smokers.
      Tobacco control is a prohibitionist racket based on lies and theft. It is extremely worrying that so many (not the prohibitionists, who have no standing or moral authority) seem to uncritically accept such petty intrusions against personal autonomy at the altar of health.
      Food, alcohol, gambling, vaping, metadata surveillance – truly worse than Orwellian… 😟

  2. petesquiz says:

    You’re quite right that both the ‘Man-made Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming’ and ‘Smoking Causes Lung Cancer’ campaigns run on very similar lines with very similar rhetoric.

    For me there is a subtle difference between them in that I’d be proud to be called a Climate Change “Denier”, but I don’t feel so confident on the smoking front.

    There are hundreds of millions of years worth of data on the climate of the Earth showing that it has been warmer and much colder than today, largely independent of the levels of Carbon Dioxide. Any scientist should be able to see this and come to the same reasoned conclusion that our climate responds to a number of factors and always has, even before man existed.

    With the smoking debate, the data is far less easily accessible and the way the statistical analyses have been presented over the years, makes the argument seem to be quite compelling. Since I’ve started reading your blog and following up on your commenters I’ve come to see that it is in no way as compelling as I used to think. (I was never convinced by the ‘Passive Smoking’ argument, though!)

    I’m now at the stage that, whilst I don’t believe smoking causes lung cancer, I couldn’t say with 100% certainty that was the case. (I also don’t have the ‘feel’ for statistics and statistical analyses, whereas I can look a graphs and charts and make conclusions much more easily!) Until someone can show me the mechanism by which smoking causes lung cancer I will be extremely sceptical.

    One of the other difficulties in defending smoking in this regard is the anecdotal ‘evidence’ that almost everyone knows of someone who smoked and died of lung cancer and that sort of ‘evidence’ is very difficult to refute.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep on reading your blog for the entertainment and education!

    • Joe L. says:

      One of the other difficulties in defending smoking in this regard is the anecdotal ‘evidence’ that almost everyone knows of someone who smoked and died of lung cancer and that sort of ‘evidence’ is very difficult to refute.

      This notion of anecdotal ‘evidence’ was instrumental in helping the Antismoking movement gain the traction it has. However, take a step back and examine the facts:

      For the decades in question (1940-1980, roughly) it appeared as though lung cancer incidence was increasing. The first question you must ask yourself is, “was the rate actually increasing, or had technological advances simply aided in the detection of lung cancer?” Do we honestly know that lung cancer incidence was truly increasing?

      Even if we concede that lung cancer incidence was actually increasing during this period of time, we must also take into account the fact that throughout the same period, the average life expectancy was also increasing. Therefore, people were living longer lives in general, and it is accepted that cancer incidence increases with age, independent of lifestyle, because telomeres shrink over time and simply because the longer one lives, they incur more incidence of cell mutations. Thus there is a greater chance of a mutation becoming a cancer. Elementary probability is all you need to understand that each time you roll a die you increase the odds of your number coming up.

      What worked in the favor of the Antimsokers over this period of time was the fact that smoking rates were also very high. Thus, there was a very good chance you knew someone who lived during this time who died of lung cancer (or any other cause) who also happened to be a smoker. This is a blatant case of Antismokers falsely claiming that correlation equals causation.

      Simply look at the recent studies which have shown increases in lung cancer incidence among young never-smokers. Over the last 30+ years of incessant Antismoking propaganda, smoking rates have fallen dramatically, yet lung cancer incidence has not fallen in response. In fact, among certain demographics, it has actually been increasing. The main difference is these studies don’t get plastered all over the mainstream media because nobody is paying to promote them the way the Antismoking organizations pay to promote any and all studies, regardless of their credibility, that purport to link smoking to disease.

    • Frank Davis says:

      “the anecdotal ‘evidence’ that almost everyone knows of someone who smoked and died of lung cancer “

      I don’t know anyone who smoked and died of lung cancer. The best candidate was Nisakiman, who died last year. But he had cancer that had spread more or less everywhere in his body, including his lungs. So I can’t really say that he died of lung cancer. It may have been one of the other cancers that killed him. When I met him 3 weeks before he died, he seemed perfectly able to breathe, but was of a deathly colour that suggested to me that his liver or kidneys were rapidly failing.

      And this is another reason why I’m suspicious of all the supposed lung cancers from smoking deaths: cancers can metastasize from one organ to another, and it may not be at all obvious where they started, short of a careful investigation.

      These days I think that the war on smoking is just the continuation of yet another moral crusade, under the guise of medicine rather than religion. And it’s why all the current public health campaigns fix on things that people enjoy: beer, cigarettes, sugar, chocolate, fast food, etc. Because they’re all essentially just killjoys.

  3. Lepercolonist says:

    The biggest scourge in the U.S. is overdoses from heroin and fentanyl. The parents wish their children would only smoke cigarettes.

  4. Philip Neal says:

    Doll did not have a physiological explanation of carcinogenesis but he did have a theory of sorts about how lung cancer is caused by five mutations to a cell and how inhaling smoke increases the probability of some of those mutations occurring. This theory can be modelled stochastically and its predictions tested against data.

    That is what Philip Burch did, and he found that Doll’s theory was internally incoherent and was falsified by a large amount of evidence. Doll was only able to fit his stochastic model to observations by torturing and suppressing data. Burch had his own theory of carcinogenesis, but it stands or falls independently and his critique of Doll does not depend on it.

    See my explanation of Burch on Doll here.

  5. jaxthefirst says:

    With lung cancer rates now rising so steeply, particularly amongst young never-smokers who have grown up around diminishing levels of ETS, there must surely come a time when blaming it on “wicked tobacco smoke” simply no longer holds water because there just won’t be enough “wicked tobacco smoke” around to give all those people all that cancer! Then, as the death toll rises, it’ll become impossible to ignore, and some big research facility will be tasked with the job of finding out what’s really been causing it all these years. And when they ascertain the real cause, the then-modern medical professionals will smile with mild astonishment when they read of all those “historical” doctors of the early 21st century who actually believed – truly, devotedly believed – that a serious illness like lung cancer could possibly be caused by an innocuous little habit like smoking tobacco. They’ll probably shake their heads in mild amusement at the thought – just like we now shake our heads at the idea that, up until the mid-1800s, people genuinely believed that serious illnesses like cholera or the Black Plague were simply caused by “bad air.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      some big research facility will be tasked with the job of finding out what’s really been causing it

      I don’t think any “big” research facility will ever manage to do that. The bigger the facility, the more dogmatic the thinking inside it will be. In these big organisations, everyone thinks the same way. And what’s needed are people who don’t think the same way as everyone else.

      If anyone ever finds the answer, it’ll be one man (or woman) living in a little house in Amsterdam or Naples or Bombay. Because only individuals can have ideas. Organisations can’t.

      What these sorts of organisations are good at doing is taking existing ideas and making them happen. e.g. the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Program. And then they do things that individuals simply can’t do.

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