Posts tagged ‘Michael Siegel’

Absolutely Atrocious Science

Via Hit and Run, this is some of the worst science I have seen in a while, and it really makes you wonder about what other schlock gets published (as long as the findings support politically correct principles)

A study in Preventive Medicine
finds that a smoking ban in Bowling Green, Ohio, was followed by a 47
percent drop in hospital admissions for coronary heart disease.
According to the researchers, "The findings of this study suggest that
clean indoor air ordinances lead to a reduction in hospital admissions
for coronary heart disease, thus reducing health care costs"....

A look at the raw hospital-admission numbers for Bowling Green, as reported by Michael Siegel, may help resolve this mystery:

1999: 35
2000: 24
2001: 24
2002: 36
2003: 22
2004: 26

the smoking ban took effect in March 2002, Siegel notes, the
researchers treat that year's admissions as if they all occurred before
the ban

That's hilarious.  What responsible researcher would look at that data set, with a March 2002 start date for the program, and be able to come to a conclusion that a smoking ban had any effect at all.  I'm not sure I even fault the "researchers" -- they are obviously trying to flog their point of view with BS data and must be happy they found a sucker to publish them.  But Preventative Medicine should be ashamed.

The Surgeon General Should Switch to Climate Science

From Michael Siegel, with a hat tip to Reason's Hit and Run (use of colored text in the original):

An article in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association),
reporting on the recent Surgeon General's review of the health effects
of secondhand smoke, brings to the forefront the controversy over
whether the Surgeon General misrepresented
the science in his public communications surrounding the report's
release ...

controversy stems from the press release and other ancillary materials
released by the Surgeon General to accompany the report itself.

Here is what those ancillary materials stated:

According to the Surgeon General's press release:

brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the
cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung
cancer, the report says."

According to the Surgeon General's remarks to the media:

secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the
cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful
effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of
a heart attack."

According to the Surgeon General's accompanying fact sheet:

secondhand smoke for even a short time can have immediate adverse
effects on the cardiovascular system, interfering with the normal
functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that
increase the risk of heart attack."

And according to the Surgeon General's accompanying brochure:

a short time in a smoky room causes your blood platelets to stick
together. Secondhand smoke also damages the lining of your blood
vessels. In your heart, these bad changes can cause a deadly heart

These claims are markedly different from those
made in the Surgeon General's report itself, which concludes that
chronic exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for heart
disease, but does not conclude (or even present evidence that) a brief
exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart attacks, or
heart disease.

This is a classic technique used today in scientific reports on global warming, where the report itself is often full of cautionary language about potential problems in the models and the uncertainties in predicting climate, but the summary and press releases make doom and gloom statements with absolute certainty that aren't actually supported by the research they purport to summarize. 

In both cases, the principles justify the exaggeration of the public message as all in a "good cause", which of course is the justification every lying politician uses.  Even Ted Stevens.

Ad Hominem Science

I thought this quote, via Reason, from anti-smoking advocate Michael Siegel is representative of how many pseudo-scientific advocacy groups work today:

In the 20 years that I was a member of the tobacco control movement,
I was led to believe that there were only two sides to any anti-smoking issue:
our side and the tobacco industry side. Therefore, anyone who disagreed with our
position had to be, in some way, affiliated with the tobacco industry. I was
also taught to respond to their arguments not on any scientific grounds or on
the merit of their arguments, but by simply discrediting the person by attacking
their affiliation with the tobacco companies.

As I have found out over the past two decades, there are a lot of
individuals who disagree with a number of positions that the anti-smoking
movement has taken (interestingly, now I find myself to be one of them). And not
all of these individuals are affiliated with, or working for the tobacco
industry. As individuals who are not part of a tobacco industry campaign, these
people are entitled to express their opinions and their arguments really deserve
to be addressed on their merits. At very least, anti-smoking organizations and
advocates should not attack these individuals. Attacking their arguments is
legitimate, but attacking the individuals, in these cases, is not.

Take this statement, substitute global warming for anti-smoking and oil industry for tobacco industry and the statement still works just as well.

Update:  For another example, see the debate over child seat efficacy at the Freakonomics Blog.  A couple of researchers studied data on injury rates of kids in car seats vs. kids in seat belts, and found little incremental benefits of seat belts.  Note their desire to find the truth under the numbers:

What is more puzzling to me is why my results and Heaton's both suggest very
little injury benefit of car seats, but the medical literature often finds 70%
(!!) reductions of injuries with car seats relative to seat belts. We find
reductions that are an order of magnitude smaller. They use very different
methods -- surveying people in the weeks after crashes for instance -- but still
it is really a puzzle. Which is why, when you read my paper, I am extremely
cautious in interpreting the injury findings.

I hope that the medical researchers, Heaton, and I can all work together to
try to make some sense of the conflicting results being generated by these
different methodologies to resolve this important question.

Seems like a reasonable scientific attitude.  Now (via Marginal Revolution) here is the response of a child seat "activist" to their findings:

Their [Levitt and Dubner] conclusions stand in stark contrast to the existing
body of scientific data that support current child restraint recommendations,
and are, in our opinion, irresponsible and dangerous....We hope that this
misleading article does not cost a child his life.

In other words:  Open scientific debat = killing children.  Levitt and Dubner must work for Haliburton.  Levitt has an update to the whole debate here.