Further Information

A Debate Over a Non-Existing Bone | Alan J. Gross, K. Stephen Brown
Article Published: 1998

Type: Articles and Dissertations
Funding Source: University of Waterloo, Philip Morris
Published By: Environmetrics, 9, 197-210, (1998); Environmetrics, 9, 213-221, (1998); Environmetrics, 9, 223-227, (1998)

Further Information

If you are of the persuasion that anything that has been financed by the tobacco industry is evil, false, and corrupt, then don’t read this.

On the other hand, if you believe that reason and truth can stand up to objective judgement and logic on their own merits regardless of the funding source, this may turn out to be quite interesting for you.

In this exchange of scientific correspondence in the form of published papers, we see Alan J. Gross (Department of Biometry and Epidemiology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston) objecting in his paper "The Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Non-Smokers Exposed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke" that it is impossible to establish a serious link between passive smoking and cardiovascular disease. Gross criticizes the data and, during the correspondence, he claims that estimates of coronary heart disease deaths due to environmental tobacco smoke are indefensible.

Gross is immediately criticized by K. Stephen Brown (Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science and Health Behaviour Research Group, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) with his paper "The Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Non-Smokers Exposed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke: a Rejoinder to Gross", who believes that puny statistical relative risk elevations obtained without respecting any established criterion about diseases that have more than 300 co-factors interacting in a myriad of ways, conducted without matching any epidemiological standard and loaded with methodological errors are sufficient to establish that “there is a statistically significant association between exposure to ETS and CHD, and that almost regardless of the assumed values for some parameters, the number of CHD deaths due to ETS represents a very significant public health concern”.

In his "The Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Non-Smokers Exposed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke Revisited: Response to Ellison and Morrison and To Brown" Gross reaffirms that “I cannot, in any good conscience, alter my overall belief that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is yet to be established as a risk factor for coronary heart disease”.

In 1998 such debates on smoking were still possible. [1] That was immediately before the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement, where the tobacco industry was forced to stop supporting debate on the issue of the dangers of passive smoking. The MSA was indeed the first and pivotal step to silence scientific debate, officially in the name of “health,” but in reality in the name of ideology on one hand and money and social control on the other.

This correspondence is a good example of a two diametrically opposed ways and philosophies on statistics and life itself, as well as science and epidemiology: that which sees the practice's limitations next to real science, and that which believes that the numbers – and only the numbers – are “proof” of causality, very much like the obtuse approach of the mediocre accountant, whose effort to square the books to the cent and to show a profit no matter that he thus leads his company into bankruptcy with his stubbornly narrow vision of reality.

Be that as it may, all the parties involved in this correspondence fail to see the fundamental and fatal flaw of all the studies on passive smoking, regardless of their results. Data obtained through questionnaires on vague recalls of distant memories of impossible to measure and unverifiable exposures of 30-40 years earlier (if not of the previous generation!) are veritable statistical trash without any scientific value whatsoever.

Arguing over trash (and, even worse, manipulating society, economies, liberties and laws) can only be the fight of the loser and the endeavour of the intellectually bankrupt. Unfortunately, between the fighting parties are trapped hundreds of millions of consumers, families, livelihoods, institutions and society itself.

[1] Those who may be inclined to think that, perhaps, now the “debate is over” because a sufficient mass of scientific evidence on passive smoking has been reached to demonstrate its harms conclusively should revisit their position. Since the times of this debate, only a larger amount of the same junk science has been accumulated; but ten tons of useless junk do not make a case for anything. Unfortunately, more and more official “authorities” have jumped on board of this fraudulent bandwagon to facilitate smoking bans and legitimize social hatred and discrimination, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the fundamental social problem is not the never-demonstrated hazards of passive smoking, but institutional integrity.

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