Friday, February 19, 2010

More on Weasel Science: Smoking

Just one more example of rampant weasel language in the public presentation of science (to go on about it too much would be to steal material from my job): A tragedy now occurring in public health is the widespread condemnation and/or banning by all the purportedly most-responsible health authorities of “e-cigarettes,” which are (almost certainly) harmless nicotine inhalers that could likely save 400,000 American lives a year if they replaced regular burning-tobacco cigarettes (so you can have your Randian/conservative firestick in hand without having your head in the sand about health effects).

But the health officials are shameless about saying, in effect, “e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are no safer than regular cigarettes,” even though that’s utterly false (and dooms millions to die) by any normal English-usage standards and can only be excused if taken to mean “e-cigarettes may have the same obscure random cancer dangers as the ambient ‘toxins’ some people worry about from breathing near plastic or any other paranoid hypothetical, and smokeless tobacco may present about 1% of the cancer risk regular cigarettes do, and since that means neither can technically be said to be perfectly safe with certainty, they are ‘equivalent’ in risk to tobacco smoke.  QED.”  (All of this sophistry is of course driven by hatred of the tobacco companies and thus considered morally excusable.)

What can you do when language has lost all meaning?  And the easy skeptical response of saying, “Those officials’ conclusions are based on science, not like Mormonism!  Yay!” simply doesn’t address the rather nuanced problem.  All you can do is work as an anti-junk-science crusader day after day and hope the world catches on eventually.

1 comment:

Gerard said...

Just to demonstrate how clueless I am, when I first heard this news I thought an e-cigarette was one of those weird, online-only items that people exchange via Facebook, a la Farmville.

Something tells me that my father, had he lived, would have still preferred his nine dollar-a-pack box of Marlboros.