Letter From Rosalind Marimont To Science Magazine



Critizing their "scientific" reporting of the smoking issue.

June 19, 1996

Mr. Steve Lapham
Letters to Editor
Science Magazine
1333 H St. NW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Mr. Lapham,

Part of the American scientific community is excommunicating a group of its members - ostensibly those who accept research money from tobacco companies (Report, "Tobacco Money Lights up a Debate", Jon Cohen, Science, 26 April, 1996). The anti-smoking crusaders (ASC), led by Stanton Glantz, have won again. In a long and brilliantly effective campaign, the ASC have tranformed the discussion of a public health issue into a holy war against smoking. To do this they have established 3 major dicta.

(1) Smoking kills 440,000 Americans annually.

(2) Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) kills 50,000 Americansannually.

(3) Anyone who questions the validity of (1) or (2) is a tool of the tobacco industry.

Dictum (3) is necessary because serious scientists recognize that (1) is questionable and (2) preposterous.

Good scientists encourage criticism of their results. By honest give and take they refine their theories and advance knowledge. The ASCs, unable to defend their often shoddy science, have changed the subject to attacking the tobacco industry and impugning the motives of scientists who accept its funding. THE REAL OR ALLEGED EVILDOING OF THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY IS IRRELEVANT TO THE PUBLIC POLICY DISCUSSION OF THE DANGERS OF SMOKING. No money will corrupt an honest scientist, and Federal money (Stanton Glantz' specialty) will corrupt a dishonest scientist as thoroughly as tobacco money.

The war on smoking has obviously become part of political correctness, or the American form of Lysenkoism. Lysenkoism, the subjugation of science to ideology, is named for Trofim Lysenko, Stalin's favorite scientist, who suppressed all genetic research in the Soviet Union and damaged Soviet science and agriculture for decades. It is easy to see why genetic research should be anathema to Stalinists, but can anyone enlighten me as to why smoking is the abomination of the politically correct?

Russell Baker, in his Observer column on the anti-smoking crusade (NY Times, May 31, 1994) noted that "crusades typically start by being admirable, proceed by being foolish, and end by being dangerous." In my opinion, the stages of the anti-tobacco crusade were:

(1) Admirable - demonstrating the relationship of primary smoking to lung cancer.

(2) Foolish - claiming that ETS is a serious health hazard.

(3) Dangerous - stifling dissent by defaming the opposition.

Defaming one's critics is a durable technique of crusaders, from Lysenko in the USSR to our own Salem witch hunters, Senator Joe McCarthy, and now Stanton Glantz and his fellow ASCs.

If Glantz' lucrative and effective propaganda has been able to harm the career of so distinguished an epidemiologist as Theodor Sterling, I can see why young scientists are afraid to protest. But where are the leaders of the AAAS, or other retirees, like me, who are free speak out? For 37 years I was proud to be Federal government scientist, first at NBS (now NIST) and then NIH. The 1993 EPA report was merely embarrassing, but the current surrender to Lysenkoism is shameful and frightening.

Rosalind B. Marimont

Reprinted with permission from author.

Rosalind B. Marimont is a retired mathematician and scientist, having done research and development for NIST (or the Bureau of Standards (NBS), as it was then) for 18 years, until 1960, and NIH for another 19, until her retirement in 1979. She started in electronics defense work during World War II at NBS, then went on to the logical design of the early digital computers during the fifties. In 1960, she moved to NIH, and there studied and published papers on human vision, speech, and other biomathematical subjects. Since her retirement she has been active in health policy issues - first, the treatment of chronic pain by integrated mind/body methods, and second, the dishonest war on smoking which has corrupted scientific research and gravely disorted the nation's health priorities.

For more than fifty years she has read and evaluated many kinds of scientific studies, and has sometimes served as a reviewer for scientific journals.

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