Conclusies uit onderzoeken

Je hoeft geen goede wetenschapper te zijn om te bepalen of de conclusies van een onderzoek onzin zijn of niet. Meestal voldoet het om de consequenties van zulke conclusies te toetsen aan algemeen aanvaarde maatstaven van de natuurkunde of economie.

Dave Hitt toetste diverse uitspraken van onderzoekers uit het anti-roken kartel en ontdekte dat veel van deze onderzoeken de toets van de redelijkheid niet kunnen doorstaan.

Every day we’re bombarded by new studies making outrageous health claims. Occasionally they claim to have discovered that something is wonderfully good for us, and we should change our lifestyle and/or immediately buy something so we can run fast, jump high, and live forever. More often they claim something is horribly horribly bad for us, so we should change our lifestyle, and/or immediately buy the cure, so we can run fast, jump high, and live forever.

Sturgeon’s law, which states “Ninety percent of everything is crud” is about 5% too low when applied to statistical studies. If we assume they’re all lies, we’ll be right most of the time. But it’s more fun, and much more satisfying, to debunk them. Extensive debunking usually requires time, patience, expertise, and knowledge of statistics, but fortunately there’s a very handy shortcut. We simply ask if the conclusion is reasonable.


We can also apply the reasonableness test to the researcher of any given study. Who is paying them? What is their history? Google makes such research fairly easy.

In the case of Repace, we’re dealing with someone who helped author the 1993 EPA study on second hand smoke, the most thoroughly debunked study in the history of junk science. Much of the funding for his projects comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an uber nanny that has generated even more junk science than the EPA in their holy quest to stamp out tobacco and alcohol. If we follow the money, we learn that RWJF is funded primarily by the dividends on six billion (yes, billion) dollars worth of Johnson and Johnson stock. Every time someone quits smoking and buys one of Johnson and Johnson’s outrageously profitable stop smoking aids (nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine inhalers, nicotine breakfast cereal, etc.) it literally puts money in their pocket, which they then use to hire “experts” like Repace. That makes Repace a shill for the pharmaceutical industry. Shouldn’t we consider that whenever he makes a proclamation?

Let’s try the reasonableness test on another recent “study.” Economist Frank Sloan claims smoking costs society nearly $40 a pack. Now, we could point lots of other studies that found the cost is either even, or a net savings. This is because smokers die sooner, collecting fewer retirement benefits and generating a lower lifetime health bill. Also, over their lifetime they pay tens of thousands of dollars more in taxes than anyone else in their income bracket. Frank claims to have included those facts, but managed to inflate his numbers by declaring that each year of lost life was worth $100,000. Where did he get that number? To quote my great grandmother: “He pulled that one out of his ass.” He then conjures up a $5.44 for the cost of second hand smoke, another nanny ass number, then for good measure pulls out another nebulous $1.44 for society as a whole.

In his original press release he never metioned that a significant portion of his funding came from – wait for it – The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

I haven’t seen the original study, but I suspect it would take a degree in economics to debunk it directly. So let’s take the quicker approach – asking Are The Numbers Reasonable? For this one we have to do a little math.

First, we need to know how many packs of cigarettes are sold in the US each year. That wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Googeling the question didn’t work too well, but I was able to find several sites that talked about per capita consumption of individual ciggrettes, and most offered similar numbers. This one from the United Nations claims the US consumes of 2,092 cigarettes person per year. First, we’ll test the reasonableness of that number.

Only a quarter of the population smokes, so we multiply that number by four to get the annual consumption of a single smoker. It comes out to 8,368, which breaks down to 418 packs, which in turn breaks down to 1.15 packs a day. That seems a little low, but it’s not unreasonable, so we’ll go with it. (One advantage of this approach is that we’re don’t need precise numbers. Reasonable approximations are enough to draw general conclusions, especially if our calculations err on the side of caution.)

Multiplying 418 packs times 70,000,000 smokers (a little less than a quarter of the US population, again erring on the side of caution) gives us 29,288,000,000 packs of cigarettes sold every year. Multiply that by $40 a pack, and we come up with a cost of $1,171,520,000,000. That’s right folks, according to this study, cigarette smoking costs the US 1.17 trillion dollars every year!

The Gross National Product last year was about $11 trillion dollars. That means that smoking costs us more than 10% of everything. Wow, what an impressive number! What a shocking conclusion!

The Hittman Chronicle

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  • "Es ist schwieriger, eine vorgefaßte Meinung zu zertrümmern als ein Atom."
    (Het is moeilijker een vooroordeel aan flarden te schieten dan een atoom.)
    Albert Einstein

  • "Als je alles zou laten dat slecht is voor je gezondheid, dan ging je kapot"
    Anonieme arts

  • "The effects of other people smoking in my presence is so small it doesn't worry me."
    Sir Richard Doll, 2001

  • "Een leugen wordt de waarheid als hij maar vaak genoeg wordt herhaald"
    Joseph Goebbels, Minister van Propaganda, Nazi Duitsland

  • "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
    Mahatma Gandhi

  • "There''s no such thing as perfect air. If there was, God wouldn''t have put bristles in our noses"
    Coun. Bill Clement

  • "Better a smoking freedom than a non-smoking tyranny"
    Antonio Martino, Italiaanse Minister van Defensie

  • "If smoking cigars is not permitted in heaven, I won't go."
    Mark Twain

  • I've alllllllways said that asking smokers "do you want to quit?" and reporting the results of that question, as is, is horribly misleading. It's a TWO part question. After asking if one wants to quit it must be followed up with "Why?" Ask why and the majority of the answers will be "because I'm supposed to" (victims of guilt and propaganda), not "because I want to."
    Audrey Silk, NYCCLASH