Why Can’t I Build Cancer Models?

Regular readers will know that for the past 18 months I’ve been constructing simulation models of heat flow in snow and ice on the surface of the Earth. For I had the idea 18 months ago that if a deep pile of snow lands on the surface of the Earth, it will act as a blanket to warm the surface, which will eventually melt the overlying snow. This idea underpinned an outline explanation for how ice ages worked: Lots of snow fell on the ground everywhere. The ground beneath the snow slowly warmed up. And after a few thousand years melted the snow. Whereupon the ground cooled down again, and when it was cold enough it got covered in snow again. And that was the ice age cycle of glacial and interglacial periods.

It all relates to the current rancorous debate about global warming. It’s my small contribution to that debate. My two bits.

But I wish I could have contributed something to the debate about smoking instead. Because my hot button issue is smoking bans, not global warming, or even Brexit. Why couldn’t I have thought about the epidemiological science of how Smoking Causes Lung Cancer? Why couldn’t I build a computer cancer model?

And that’s an interesting question. And my answer is that there is no science underpinning the idea that Smoking Causes Lung CancerThere’s nothing there.

The same isn’t true of climate science. There’s lots and lots of real science in there. There are glaciologists and geologists and physicists busy studying ice sheets and rocks and air. They measure temperatures, weigh things, measure things, and calculate things. If I have a complaint about climate science, it’s not that I think that what they’re doing isn’t science, but rather that I don’t think their science has developed far enough for them to understand something as complex as the Earth’s climate.

I bought a book last year called Principles of Planetary Climate, by Raymond Pierrehumbert. I have no doubt whatsoever that he’s a climate scientist, because the book is chockablock full of equations and graphs. But the most interesting thing about the book is that Pierrehumbert is quite candid in saying that there are a lot of things that climate scientists don’t understand. The opening lines of chapter one – The Big Questions – are:

This chapter will survey a few of the major questions raised by observed features of present and past Earth and planetary climates. Some of these questions have been answered to one extent or other, but many remain largely unresolved.

They’ve got Big Questions? And they don’t know the answers to some of them? How much don’t they know? And these guys are telling us that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming? They’re telling us that, but at the same time they’re telling us that there’s all sorts of stuff that they simply don’t understand? Can we please wait until these guys actually understand everything, or everything we really need to know, before doing something as drastic as decarbonising the economy.

But then science is always being driven by ignorance. In science, people are always trying to find the answers to questions they’ve got about things they don’t understand. It’s become a matter of such great urgency now that billions and billions of dollars are being thrown into climate science, in the desperate attempt to get to understand the Earth’s climate better. And they’re doing real science with thermometers and weighing machines and rulers. They’re measuring stuff.

So where are the billions of dollars in tobacco science research? Where are the papers showing exactly how tobacco smoke causes lung cancer? Or even the latest theory of how it does so?

The answer is that there are no dollars being piled into explaining how Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. And there never has been. There have been a few inconclusive studies with dogs. All the rest of the debate has been purely statistical in nature. For while they still have no idea how smoking causes lung cancer, they think that it probably causes lung cancer somehow or other. And they think there are other probable contributory causes, including age, HPV, radioactivity, genes, etc. The ‘proofs’ that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer are purely mathematical. The whole battle has been fought out in the field of statistics. There’s no science involved. Just mathematics.

Smoking has been banned because it’s believed that it probably causes cancer. In fact it’s been banned because there’s a small outside chance that it might just be a contributory cause of cancer, in the exact same way that Visiting West Africa is a Probable Contributory Factor for Malaria.

So while there’s a real scientific debate, and real scientific research being done in climate science, the same isn’t true of the debate about smoking and lung cancer. In climate science there’s a genuine (very heated) debate going on. But in smoking science The Debate Is Over. And the debate is over because there never was a debate. And there never was a debate because there was never any science.

What we’re seeing in the smoking non-debate is an example of Lysenko science. Lysenko believed that wheat crops could be increased using a process called “vernalisation.” Hardly anybody in Russia believed Lysenko. But one very important person did believe him, and his name was Joseph Stalin. And what Stalin thought was what everybody in Russia had to think too. And the belief that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer is a Lysenko-type idea which has become a dogma because Important People believe it. These important people seem mostly to reside in the medical profession. Somehow or other lots of doctors became convinced around 1950 that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and have been using the power and prestige of their profession to help drive a PR campaign – a propaganda campaign – to convince everyone else that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, simply by repeating the assertion over and over again. And they’ve been astonishingly successful. For now everybody knows that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer as more or less the one thing in life that they’re absolutely certain about. It’s become impossible to think otherwise.

There’s a genuine debate going on about climate science because there’s real science behind it. There’s no debate about smoking because there’s no science behind it, and so nothing to debate. When it comes to smoking, we’re in the realms of mass psychology, and mass psychological conditioning. It’s not about what is the case, but what you believe is the case.

It’s why Tobacco Control must be destroyed. All they’re doing is enforce a belief system that’s unsupported by any science. And when Tobacco Control is finally destroyed, it’s going to take with it much of the medical profession and the mainstream mass media.

So I can build heat flow models of snow and ice because there’s science I can use, but I can’t build smoke and cancer flow models of lungs and tissue because there’s no science there. There’s just a dogmatic propaganda-driven belief system.

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to Why Can’t I Build Cancer Models?

  1. Sackerson says:

    Interesting question, what causes genetic mutations that lead to cancer? I think one difficulty is that part of the cause may be mental – I suspect it’s not a conicidence e.g. that Nick Leeson’s disgrace after the collapse of Barings was followed by his developing cancer. AFAIK most of the human brain is unconscious and devoted to stopping us falling apart and a shock may act as a kind of computer virus instructing the brain to stop looking after the body properly. Tosh, or not?

    • Algernon Struthers says:

      From personal experience I came to the same conclusion. There’s some kind of mental trigger. The people I’ve know who’ve contracted cancer were anally retentive types and usually ardent non-smokers. I guess not everyone who contracts cancer is like that, although I’d still go with the ‘mental trigger’ approach.

  2. Smoking Lamp says:

    Th ee political debate on smoking and disease must be re-opened. After all, the current belief system that masquerades as ‘evidence-based policy’ is based on propaganda, manipulation, and fear. As Deborah Arnott said about the imposition of the smoking ban: It was a confidence game… Tobacco control must be destroyed!

    • Rose says:

      An invaluable guide to how the trick was played.
      I thought it was very good of Deborah Arnott to let us all into ASH UK’s previously secret strategems in 2006. I specially enjoyed the “Swarm Effect”

      Smoke and mirrors

      “The law banning smoking in public places is the culmination of one of the most successful social change campaigns in recent years”

      Confidence trick

      “It is essential that campaigners create the impression of inevitable success. Campaigning of this kind is literally a confidence trick: the appearance of confidence both creates confidence and demoralises the opposition.”

      • That last paragraph is incredibly important and everyone fighting in this fight should keep it in mind. Stanny Grantz used a variation on this about 30 years ago when he talked about people talking during intermission at a concert, saying that when one of them would light up that the others would back away waving their arms to try to keep the smoke from coming at them.

        At The time when he said this it was pure craziness. But he knew that if that kind of thing was repeated over and over in the media representing the norm, that people would begin believing that it was indeed normal behavior and begin acting that way.

        There is a phrase for it that I find myself forgetting where one speaks about something that does not exist but by speaking about it often enough and loudly enough one makes it come into existence. I think the root may lie in the biblical quote “My word is made flesh.”

        The Antismokers know this and they use it all the time in their propaganda.

        – MJM

        • Rose says:

          The Big Lie ?

          A big lie (German: große Lüge) is a propaganda technique and logical trick (fallacy). The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

  3. Clicky says:

  4. waltc says:

    Here’s something to think about, whether or not you buy it. “Study shows”: The genes and their attendant proteins that potentially determine whether you respond favorably to smoking, also potentially up your odds of getting cancer. From which one might conclude that it’s not the middle factor (smoking) that’s potentially “causal” but the foundational genes:


    • waltc says:

      Not btw, I also at least anecdotally believe that the potential for alcoholism may be
      genetic, in that I’ve observed three generations of it among the males in one family.

    • Joe L. says:

      The genes and their attendant proteins that potentially determine whether you respond favorably to smoking, also potentially up your odds of getting cancer.

      If this is true, the statistical “anomaly” that indicates a greater number of ex-smokers tend to develop cancers than do current smokers could very well be due to tobacco playing a preventive anti-cancer role. It’s quite possible that one who is genetically predisposed to cancer would also be genetically attracted to a substance which counteracts it.

  5. Philip Neal says:

    I don’t think it is entirely true that you cannot model cancer. Doll and Burch both did so – I try to explain their models in The Burch Curve – but the problem is different from climate. Cancer involves random mutations, thresholds and levels of exposure with the result that models concern rates of disease in the population at different times and in different age groups. You can’t really model the individual.

    A lot more is known about cell biology now than fifty years ago, but when I read Robert Weinberg’s popular One Renegade Cell and dipped into his heavyweight compendium Cancer, I was surprised how very little either book had to say about smoking.

  6. Pingback: Missive From ‘Merica: #141 Hellifino – Library of Libraries

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