Sunday, December 19, 2010

Corrupting Science for Fun and Profit

Fred Singer, noted physicist and Emeritus Professor in Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, has an article today in the American Thinker entitled Second Hand Smoke, Lung Cancer, and the Global Warming Debate. Now, Professor Singer is not a smoker, and would normally not have a dog in the fight, but is appalled at the corruption of science that has occurred in service to a political agenda. I will note that I am a pipe smoker, and am appalled at the political agenda that seeks to use the State as a kind of mother to make me and others like me cease an enjoyable hobby because others object.

Singer details the fraud that has occurred in the smoking debate:

So what is the truth about SHS and lung cancer? I am neither an oncologist nor a chemical toxicologist, but I do know some statistics, which allows me to examine the EPA study without bias. I can demonstrate that the EPA fudged their analysis to reach a predetermined conclusion -- using thoroughly dishonest procedures. EPA "scientists" made three major errors: 1) They ignored "publication bias." 2) They arbitrarily shifted the statistical "confidence intervals." 3) They drew unjustified conclusions from a risk ratio that was barely greater than 1.0.
o Since none of the epidemiological studies provided the clear answer they wanted, the EPA carried out a "meta-analysis," lumping together a selected group of studies. Unfortunately, this approach ignores publication bias -- i.e., the tendency for investigators not to publish their studies if they do not find a positive result.

o The EPA, in order to calculate a positive risk ratio, relaxed the confidence intervals from the generally accepted 95% standard to 90% -- and admitted this openly.

o Even so, their "Risk Ratio" was just a little above 1.0 -- whereas careful epidemiologists, because of the presence of confounding factors, generally ignore any result unless the RR exceeds 2.0.
To sum up this somewhat technical discussion, while I cannot give specific answers about lung cancer or other medical issues connected with SHS, I can state with some assurance that the EPA analysis -- to paraphrase my former teacher, Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli -- is "not only wrong, but worthless."
Now, smoking is not something that is easy to defend. Certainly smoking cigarettes decreases one's longevity and can be viewed as a selfish indulgence, as can drinking, riding motorcycles, sport parachuting, and any other risky activity. Interestingly, pipe smokers tend to live two years longer than non-smokers, but I doubt it has to do with smoking a pipe and more to do with the personality of pipe smokers.  Also, interestingly, even smokers are more likely to die of something other than lung cancer.  Meanwhile, only one study has reported anything at all, and that barely 600 deaths due to something that might have been secondhand smoke.  The war on tobacco has been acrimonious with opponents of smoking claiming their "right" to breathe fresh air, while smokers exerted their "right" to be left alone.  It has also resulted in an economic upheaval.  For many tobacco farmers, the replacement crops have not been as profitable as has tobacco was.  Meanwhile, laws that outlaw smoking undermine property rights, and obscured other causes of lung cancer such as welding and diesel smoke.  My Dad faces a $500 fine for smoking on his own property each time he goes to the office.  The government could have spent the time and money used to make war on tobacco by trying to cut down the roughly 30,000 fatal traffic crashes that occur each and every year.

Interestingly, just as following the money trail on the anti-gun issue leads back to the Joyce Foundation, so with tobacco it has been the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  Go ahead, look it up.

So, what does all this have to do with Goofball Wormening?  The same corruption of science that was used in the war on tobacco is being used to advance Goofball Wormening, and for the same reasons.  The war on tobacco resulted in a transfer of wealth from poor and lower middle class smokers to rich and powerful lawyers, and to State coffers to use as a slush fund in support of Democrat causes.  Goofball Wormening, if they get their way, will result in the transfer of wealth from average Americans to rich Democrats. It would be disastrous enough if it were true, but it is not in either case.

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