posted by Carl V Phillips (with contributions from CASAA Board)
A favorite anti-THR lie is to claim there is no evidence of something when there is actually a lot of very compelling evidence. If pushed, such liars generally try to weasel out of their claim by saying “well, I meant no evidence of one particular type.” Sometimes they will try to claim that only one particular type of evidence is informative (and they might even believe that — but that just means they have no business claiming to understand science, and so are lying about that).
For example: “we cannot be sure that smoking causes cancer because there are no randomized trials that show that.” Yes, we are saying that the anti-THR liars of 2012 are borrowing the tactic used by cigarette companies in 1970.
The anti-THR liar who is currently at the top of the charts (though we predict she will be a one-hit-wonder) is the University of Kentucky’s Ellen J. Hahn, so we will feature her lies for a few days. Some of them appear in this poster put out by her “Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy”. (Contrary to its mission, this Center appears to be mostly focused on anti-THR, and so is effectively a pro-smoking organization.)
Hahn has produced and distributed this poster without admitting authorship (personally or in the name of her Center — notice that she made up a new name for her organization to try to hide the connection), making it pretty clear that she knows these lies are so bald-faced that even she does not want to be associated with them. However, she did prominently post it at her Centers website, which makes the subterfuge rather obvious.
Today we will address just the “There’s no evidence of this.” (We will not try to figure out why someone would use a contraction for “there is” in a written document.) We will continue with the other lies from that poster tomorrow.
Anyone at all familiar with this topic knows that there is loads of evidence that e-cigarettes cause people to quit smoking. There are hundreds of thousands of former smokers who now use e-cigarettes instead. That alone would lead any honest person who understood scientific reasoning to conclude that they help some people quit. There is simply no possible way that every one of those switchers, had they not discovered e-cigarettes, would have just quit smoking at the same time they switched; it would be utterly absurd to suggest that. Moreover, there are countless testimonies from such people who declare that they are quite sure they would not have quit — already, and perhaps ever — had they not found e-cigarettes.
The presumed response to that (if anti-THR people ever dared stand up and try to defend their claims instead of hiding behind their propaganda posters and talking only to each other) would be, “but that information is not from organized scientific studies, and they are especially not from randomized trials, so it does not ‘count’!” It is important that we do not let the pseudo-scientists that make such claims and thereby distract us from the scientific intuition that we all acquire as children. We all know that most knowledge does not come from organized studies of the type that are used to, say, figure out whether one particular chemotherapy agent works better than another. That type of study accounts for only a tiny fraction of all the scientific knowledge we have. This is especially true for mass social phenomenon, like the decisions of free-living people to quit smoking, which are pretty much impossible to study in that way.
It turns out that even the “but there are no formal studies” claim is a factual falsehood in this case. There are a few lab studies in which smokers were given e-cigarettes. But we should not make the mistake — that the liars and innumerate non-scientists might make and then cause others to make — of thinking that these small, highly artificial observations are more informative than the observation of what people are actually doing. It is reassuring that these studies come to the same conclusion we derive from observing the population. But the best scientific evidence you can ever have that something happens in the real world is observation of it happening, hundreds of thousands of times, in the real world.