Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sean Gabb: dangerously insane

This article* is a disgrace. Not content merely to question the dangers of passive or secondhand smoking, the author plays revisionist science by claiming that even active smoking has not been conclusively demonstrated to cause illness, and repeatedly accuses (quite forthrightly; there is no insinuation here) scientists who have reported that smoking is harmful of deliberate deception for no other apparent reason than to gain power in order to inflict further such acts of malice on the public. For what credible motive they would do this is not made clear, as is generally true of such conspiracy theories.

Burning books and scientific records: slippery slope

Burning books and scientific records: a slippery slope.
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In this case, the author has reached far beyond his grasp. Even the science affirming secondhand smoke’s potential to damage health has ceased to be controversial; so universally is this now accepted that it is illegal to smoke within 25 feet of the windows of most public buildings in California, and this is no longer unusual. But as for direct smoking: Didn’t we lay that dispute to rest nearly fifty years ago? Since at least 1964, evidence has been sufficiently incontrovertible to prompt the then-surgeon general to order that the precursor to the now-familiar health warnings appear on every pack of cigarettes.

But when both sides of a controversy accuse one another of deliberate lying, as has happened here, there is a fairly easy way to tell, most of the time, who is really practicing to deceive: The liar is probably the one arguing for a profit-making enterprise that the other side threatens to make less profitable. Here again we see the venerable detective’s formula: cui bono? — to whose good? And this is what we must always ask ourselves as we evaluate clashing claims.

Where tobacco is concerned, it is not clear how finding it harmful leads to profits for any enterprise, but it is very clear that defending smoking is likely to earn the approbation of the immensely lucrative tobacco industry — and that the industry’s gratitude is likely to take the form of pecuniary rewards. I do not know whether either Sean Gabb or has been compensated by tobacco corporations for this anti-scientific hatchet job, but if they haven’t been, they should be.

What suggests that Gabb is dangerous, however, is not so much the lingering odor of stale revisionism as the concluding paragraph: “The only way to stop this flood of propaganda and lifestyle regulation is to shut all the relevant bodies down — to kick everyone employed by them unpensioned into the street, and to burn all the records. It may be that the wholesale research cuts I have in mind would deprive us of some incidentally true and even useful knowledge. But living in a freer world, where truth was more respected, would doubtless compensate for the loss.”

I don't think Jenghiz Khan could have expressed any more elegantly his desire to annihilate all who oppose him. But then, as the Wikipedia article on Gabb informs us (in his own words), burning records seems to be part of the Gabb solution to every controversy: He suggests the same remedy to obliterate the Commission for Racial Equality in his native UK.

You may want to keep Gabb well away from your town library.

*Originally published as an adverse review of a conspiracy theory by Sean Gabb.

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