Monday, 19 January 2009

Libertarism, climate change and the tobacco lobby

For people new to the climate change debate, at first glimpse it might be strange that so many climate skeptics have a past in which they, one way or another, deny a relationship between tobacco and (second hand) smoking. It's strange, because the two topics are totally unrelated, and it's strange because it is unlikely that a single person is an expert in both a medical topic and one dealing with earth sciences.

Prof Naomi Oreskes in her presentation The American denial of Global Warming seeks where the root of this denialism lays : her conclusion (which I agree with) is that the scientific denialism actually is a consequence of the libertarian hatred against the ‘state’ and where science gets attacked because of the eventual political consequences it might have. When in conflict with the libertarian political-religious dogmatic framework, the scientific information in conflict with the dogma simply has to be wrong…

S. Fred Singer global warming & tobacco
The thought expressed above of course does explain why so many skeptics have a history of denying so many different and independent scientific issues : the infamous skeptic S. Fred Singer has a past of denying aspects in completaly differents domains as the relations between : tobacco & cancer; CFC’s & Ozone-depletion; asbestos & lung cancer; CO2 & global warming...

Singer might be an extreme case, but people like Tim Ball or Richard Lindzen all have expressed their doubts not just on climate change, but also on the tobacco-subject. All those people are linked to right wing libertarian "free-market" thinkthanks. Given the fact it’s often the same names denying scientific findings for both of the subjects, it’s no surprise to find a remarkable similarity in the tactics of the organized denialism on tobacco & global warming.

Global Warming skeptics basically copied the strategy developed by the tobacco industry in the 60’ies which have proven to work back then. And, given the high dose of confusion amongst the public on the field of climate change, there's no doubt the tactics still work.

As a result of a trial on tobacco related illnesses, an American court obliged some tobacco companies to release internal documents. The result is available on the website Tobacco Legacy Documents which gives a clear insight in the tactics useb by the tobacco-lobby. The documents reveal the names of people associated with this lobby, names which all too often sound really familiar for someone following the global warming debate.

When the American government came to the conclusion (1989) that tobacco is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine, the tobacco lobby’s response was (a.o.) to create an Astroturf group called ARISE. This group fabricated the argument that smoking brings pleasure to its users and therefore is a good thing. ARISE states :

The sensory and pharmacological effects of substances such as alcohol, chocolate, coffee, tea and tobacco give pleasure, and so can have beneficial effects on health . They also provide a pharmacologically calming effect, which aids relaxation, and in moderation are also beneficial to health

Pleasure is a vital component of human life and, amongst other things, can be a positive contributor to living as well as an antidote to negative mood states . Research shows that the human immune system can be enhanced or suppressed on the basis of psychological state . So if pleasurable activity enhances one's mood, then one's health is likely to be affected in a positive way.

The fact smokers are ill more often than their colleagues who don’t smoke was well known already in the nineties, yet still ARISE writes:

The pharmacological effects of coffee, tea and tobacco improve attention and memory and increase achievement at work.
The thing sounding very familiar is this statement by ARISE that clearly sounds very libertarian :
The recent emergence of neo-puritanism whereby people in positions of authority and so-called 'experts' make pronouncements telling us which pleasurable things are permissible and which are not, is at best misguided and at worst, potentially dangerous to our wellbeing.
Another fine example of how the lobby was communicating toward the public is shown in this article published in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad (12 okt 1993) some fragments :
“Daily little joys” like coffee or tobacco, indicate humans need pleasure to recuperate from our daily efforts, and they increase our quality of life. A surprising point of view, as it’s expressed by real scientists “The positive effects of such products are often neglected” prof Warburton [founder of ARISE] explains.

The professor works at the university of Reading (UK) The newspaper depicts the lobbygroup as follows : ARISE is an international association conducting research towards the joy that some products can bring.

The remarkable final conclusion reads : Prof Warburton doesn’t have much respect for people that
warn the public for the dangers : today people informing the public for a good cause are the new high priests that control pleasure, with epidemiologists as their oracles.
It’s impossible not to notice it: this phrasing sounds very
familiar for anyone who ever read libertarian/right wing liberal texts

When reading the "freedom"-discours of Warburton, it won't such a big surprise that a Belgian associate to the lobby Group is the aforementioned Belgian philosophy of law professor Frank Van Dun.
Frank van Dun wrote a text called "Pleasure and Political culture" which can be found in the tobacco legacy documents library and which goes as follows :

Frank Van Dun tobacco tabak
Frank Van Dun
Intolerance is back in style, drinkers, smokers, drivers, are depicted as evils to bedealt with severely . Just look at the campaigns involving cancer. The use of political means for the prevention of disease requires totalitarian control over the lives of people . Making such control acceptable is the hidden agenda behind anti-pleasure campaigns . The moral issue is whether the results justify the costs . To live is to make choices . To drink alcohol and coffee, a to smoke are all personal choices
The question of course how this vision on politics and science is combined with scientific reality :

The political question who is to make the choice . The medical and economic arguments against smoking are only of relatively small importance, since they are buried under imponderables which vary from one person to the next, i.e, genetic susceptibility.

Clearly, van Dun mineralizes the negative effects of smoking. In the beginning of the nineties (when this text was written), the effects of active smoking were well known. Above that the question arises whether Van Dun’s (and many other libertarian’s) viewpoint is right that smoking is an individual choice. Given the big budgets the tobacco industry did spent in publicity, the question if a free will is as free as Van Dun claims is one that could be asked. And i think it should be asked, because imho it is answered in an incorrect manner by libertarians, resulting them to make conclusions on society and politics that are just as incorrect ..

Frank van Dun ends his text on tobacco with something that is totally non related to the topic of smoking, and is so general actually it can be “used” as a libertarian conclusion for a whole lot of non-related topics :
Decency moreover dictates that they are not misused to disguise unstated moralistic and political motivations, the craving of tyranny and intolerance of those who can justify their existence only in the control over the lives of others
I have the feeling that this exact same quote could’ve been used to express a libertarian’s feeling when speaking on the subject of climate change. Anything is possible, except a government taking actions that affects individuals. No matter if the subject is smoking, the economy or … climate change

Meanwhile, recently the Dutch government has imposed a ban on smoking in public places. Much to the regret of the liberarian website (the same site where Hans Labohm published his ridiculous article), which in the past years had dozens of articles urging the public to oppose to this unacceptable violation of individual rights the ban in their eyes is.

TICAP The international coalition against prohibition tobacco libertarianism
In their latest post, the website draws the attention to the nice people of TICAP (The International Coalition Against Prohibition), which soon will hold a conference to oppose a smoking ban.

Of course the first thing I did was entering the names of the speakers on the conference in the tobacco legacy documents search string. Even though that database is quite outdated, still most names of speakers on the TICAP-conference can be found in this lobby documents. One example : Barrie Craven turns out to have been a member of the lobbygroup The European Science and Environement Forum or ESEF. When looking at the academic members of ESEF (p31) you can find the names of …. well known climate skeptics like Sallie Baliunas, Robert C Baling, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, Fred Singer, Willie Soon and Vincent Gray.

Global warming skepticism cannot be understood without understanding the background of the skeptics, that much is sure. The skepticism in my opinion results from a dogmatic, quasi-religious, belief in the libertarian dogma of free market capitalism without any interference. The fallacies used in climate change discussions remind me to the fallacies made by creationists. Anything is possible, except the dogma to be wrong. If it requires attacking science to save the dogma, science gets attacked ...


  1. "Strange, because the two topics are totally unrelated, and strange because it is unlikely that a single person is an expert in both a medical topic and one dealing with earth sciences."

    Totally unrelated? Is a common theme the use of statistics?

  2. And perhaps the Common spinning of them to suit political agenda.

  3. As a climate sceptic and arch SHS sceptic it seems I exhibit all your worst prejudices. In the UK 6 miles north of the centre of London at Finchley tube (subway) station they found the extent of the ice age 20,000 years ago. The 6miles south in the centre of London under Trafalgar Square they have dug up the bones of African animals more used to roaming the savannah, Lions, hippos and hyenas. That was from 250,000 years ago, so naturally the earth warms and cools.

    For SHS/ETS Google Enstrom/Kabat and they conclude evidence of early motality from ETS/SHS is "sparse."

    And yes I do not like crypto Marxists interferring with my life, I am quite capable of making my own decisions without the intervention of big brother.

  4. DaveA

    Natural variability doesn't exclude an anthotrogenic influence, so what you say is both true and irelevant.

    On the Enstrom/Kabat study, apparantly fundamentally flawed

    Enstrom was offered a nice grant by Philip Morris for his research.
    The check for the first part can be seen here. Other payments here and here and here. (there's more, but i guess the pattern is clear ?).

    i'd say there seems to be a certain lack in reliability in your source...


  5. Jules- and how much did those which came out with the "right" results get from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(an arm of Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals??

  6. The "right" result would be a tiny correlation between ETS and illness.
    80% of studies get the "wrong" result btw.

    Of course all studies funded in part by tobacco companies are all nonesense whilst studies funded by pharmaceutical companies are beyond reproach. Right?

    But here's the link between between climate change and SHS harm doubters.
    The main proponents of SHS harm are getting rich selling NRT products, whilst the proponents of climate change are getting rich trading carbon credits.
    Given the money involved can you tell me why you WOULDN'T assume bias?

  7. Of course all studies funded in part by tobacco companies are all nonesense whilst studies funded by pharmaceutical companies are beyond reproach. Right?

    nope, and uncomfortably close to a strawman's argument

    But here's the link between between climate change and SHS harm doubters. The main proponents of SHS harm are getting rich selling NRT products, whilst the proponents of climate change are getting rich trading carbon credits.

    which scientists are getting rich ?
    i provided you copies of payments. I'm sure you're not chasing a vague complot theory but have proof for what you've said ?

    Given the money involved can you tell me why you WOULDN'T assume bias?

    again circling around a strawman.

    the question btw isn't if there's bias, but if it's likely everyone is biased in the same direction...

  8. Jules, we have opened Pandora's Box. Firstly the Enstrom/Kabat report was peer reviewed by two equally eminent, independent Epidemiologists who viewed the methodolgy, data and conclusions and gave them a clean bill of health. 95% of the reseach costs were born by the rabidly anti smoking American Cancer Society, and when Enstrom/Kabat were coming up with the "wrong results" cynically withdrew funding. 5% was paid for by tobacco companies. I will leave you in the capable hands of Richard Smith the Editor of the British Medical Journal on the Rapid Responses. You will note for authenticity I have put in an URL from ASH.

    "Fourthly, I found it disturbing that so many people and organisations referred to the flaws in the study without specifying what they were. Indeed, this debate was much more remarkable for its passion than its precision."

  9. "nope, and uncomfortably close to a strawman's argument"

    You should be able to identify strawmen - this whole topic is one big strawman.

    "which scientists are getting rich ?"

    You imagine scientists are spearheading these campaigns? How odd.

    "the question btw isn't if there's bias, but if it's likely everyone is biased in the same direction..."

    Fair enough. Let me ask you a question; in each debate which side has publically claimed "the science is settled"?

    An interesting claim given that science is NEVER settled and even more interesting given the nature of the evidence.
    With climate change its down to computer modelling - a powerful tool but not one can prove anything (no matter how far you stretch the definition of proof).
    With SHS it's epidemiological studies, a form of statisical analysis that has long been known to be weak, wide open to interpetation (especially when it comes to confounders) and can only show correlation, NOT causation. In other words, a tool that can never ever be used to prove anything.
    And yet the science is supposedly settled - to someone who is scientifically trained this looks like a lie on a fundamental level, and if they're lying about the fundamentals how can you possibly trust another word out their mouths?
    And there, in a nutshell is why I think they're lying. I don't need to be an expert in climate change or toxicology I just need to recognise a very obvious lie.

  10. *Comment by anonymus deleted*
    The admin.

  11. WOW Jules you really like free speech dont you??

  12. i'm the owner of this blog; the "landlord" if you will.

    I'm the one to decide whether to allow scum in my house or not.

    I prefer to keep it clean : comments containing nothing but insults will be moderated.

    If you don't like this policy, feel free to choose another place to post.

  13. I have no problems at all with this policy Mr Klimaat rather like I have no problems at all with a bar or restaurant being made nonsmoking by the owner's free choice. The staff if they are that bothered by SHS can seek work elsewhere.

  14. Jules wrote:
    "Natural variability doesn't exclude an anthotrogenic influence"

    True. Is this local or global?

    Is this AGW or changes in land use, uhi, or perhaps deforestation?

    Is CO2 a thermostat?

    Jules wrote:
    "the question btw isn't if there's bias, but if it's likely everyone is biased in the same direction..."

    Mann's HS was said to be independantly verified. Was this 'bias' in the same direction?
    (note Jones et al 2009)

    So it is possible isn't it?

  15. Well looks like Tobacco Control dont believe in Democracy- I hope you realise now what sort of people they really are!!

  16. If you want to know do a quick google search.

  17. Anonymous,

    I was wondering which statement you actually are trying to make? ...
    Looks like you are denying the negative consequences of smoking, but I'm sure that is not what you intend to say (and what you think), is it?

  18. Rozetta my comments are all about free speech. Yes the other stuff you mention deserves that too!!!!

  19. Dave A.

    i have the feeling you've quote-mined little bit Richard Smith's opinion as it is a little bit more nuanced than what you try to show by the quote you gave : Smith also writes :
    Of course the study we published has flaws—all papers do—but it also has considerable strengths

    it's pity you did cut that phrasing away. Now i have the feeling you want to create the impression there's NO flaws to be found in the work.

  20. anonymus, nobody's claiming science is settled, so that's a ... strawman :-)

    Read what i wrote what the meaning of the scientific consensus on the subject is, in my post loose thoughts on some frequent fallacies

  21. just asking

    i'm not sure what you mean with your first question.

    CO2 is not a thermostat in the sense it's only one of the many factors wih an influence on earth's temperature

    considering the bias i meant it ain't likely thousands of scientists have exactly the same bias (which on it's turn is confirmed by the results of scientists in other disciplines)...
    A possibility does not equal a reality.

  22. Jules,

    I think this is very interesting and relevant post - no only for the climate-debate but also on a wider context.

    One small editorial remark though: I think you mean link "The American denial of Global Warming" to this:

  23. indeed the link seemed to be broken. Fixed it. Thanks for noticing.