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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Lies, damn lies, and fiddled statistics.

“Science is not always a neutral, disinterested search for knowledge, although it may often seem that way to the outsider. Sometimes the story can be very different.”

This should be required reading for all those rabid anti smokers out there.

How times change.

Smoking and health have been the subject of argument since tobacco was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century. King James I was a pioneer antismoker. In 1604 he declared that smoking was "a custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse." But like many a politician since, he decided that taxing tobacco was a more sensible option than banning it.

By the end of the century general opinion had changed. The Royal College of Physicians of London promoted smoking for its benefits to health and advised which brands were best. Smoking was compulsory in schools. An Eton schoolboy later recalled that "he was never whipped so much in his life as he was one morning for not smoking". As recently as 1942 Price’s textbook of medicine recommended smoking to relieve asthma.

The times they were a changing (Apology to Bob Dylan).

Then we had the Doll and Hill study.

These strong opinions for and against smoking were not supported by much evidence either way until 1950 when Richard Doll and Bradford Hill showed that smokers seemed more likely to develop lung cancer.

But were their study results correct?

Sir Ronald Fisher, arguably the greatest statistician of the 20th century, had noticed a bizarre anomaly in their results. Doll and Hill had asked their subjects if they inhaled. Fisher showed that men who inhaled were significantly less likely to develop lung cancer than non-inhalers. As Fisher said, "even equality would be a fair knock-out for the theory that smoke in the lung causes cancer."

I’m not going to further plagiarise the document but suggest that smokers and anti smokers both have a read of the article. I think as an antismoker you may be disturbed, if not slightly guilty about your persecution of smokers. I leave you with this:

But the continuation of Hammond’s work, with its demonstrated faulty methodology, was used by the Australian authors to deduce that smoking causes premature death to the extent of 17,800 per year in Australia. Their conclusions should be compared with the results of a survey by the Australian Statistician in 1991 of 22,200 households, chosen at random. This showed "long term conditions", including cancer and heart disease, to be more common in non-smokers than smokers.