I don’t think you know what “tobacco science” means

There was a time when the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer was not established. There were hints of it, some clues here and there, but no one really had done anything to prove that the link was there. Then, the scientists decided to compare smokers to non-smokers. As it turns out, smokers had a higher likelihood of developing lung cancer. Then they flipped it and reversed it. They compared lung cancer patients with people without lung cancer. As it turns out, people with lung cancer were more likely to be smokers. Not all of them were smokers, of course. Lung cancer can be triggered by other factors, but enough of them were smokers compared to people without lung cancer.

That is, there were epidemiological studies done on smoking and on lung cancer, and they were both linked.

There was also a time when children in the “Western World” died or were hospitalized at a high rate because of diseases like measles, mumps, meningitis, chickenpox, German measles (Rubella), influenza, and so forth. Then vaccines came into play and epidemiologists (the same scientists that used the scientific method and biostatistics to link lung cancer and smoking) decided to prove that it was the vaccines that reduced the number of cases and deaths of vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs). They looked at kids with these diseases and kids without them, and the epidemiologists determined that kids with VPDs were more likely to be unvaccinated. Not all of them, of course. Vaccines are not 100% effective. Then they flipped it and reversed it. They followed vaccinated and unvaccinated children, and they saw that unvaccinated children were more likely to develop VPDs than their vaccinated counterparts.

That is, there were epidemiological studies done on vaccines and the diseases they were designed to prevent, and they were both linked (but in a preventative, not causative way).

Anti-vaccine activists will tell you that the epidemiology that my colleagues and I do is “tobacco science.” They are referring to a dark time in the history of science when bona fide scientists actually stood against the epidemiologists and said that the epidemiological studies linking smoking tobacco and lung cancer were invalid. They did their worst to try and discredit clear epidemiology and even clearer biostatistics. In fact, the “tobacco scientists” were the ones trying to discredit the epidemiological evidence.

Now, you tell me, who are the “tobacco scientists”? Is it us who use the tools of science to come up with incontrovertible evidence of the benefits of vaccines and their excellent safety record? Or is it those who misuse science and use pseudoscience to try and uphold something that is harmful to our children?

I’ve told you before that anti-vaccine activists make lousy gamblers because they see a one-in-a-million chance as something “more likely” than a one-in-a-thousand chance. I’ll add on to that. They’re horrible historians, too. They can’t get the term “tobacco science” right.


4 thoughts on “I don’t think you know what “tobacco science” means

  1. There was a time when cigarette manufacturers used the medical profession to sell cigarettes…by designing surveys that were sent out to doctors and hiring by actors to portray doctors in their print advertising. Epidemiologists were able to tease out the data that associated cigarette smoking with lung cancer, asthma and COPD. Here, an excellent article from the American Journal of Public Health:


    So yeah, the anti-vaxxers shout “tobacco science”, whenever a new study is published that debunks their pet theories about vaccines, the ingredients in vaccines and the timing/spacing of vaccines…and the onset of autism.


    How weird is this ad for “Dr. Batty’s Asthma Cigarettes: Not Recommended For Children Under Six”?


  2. In the polar opposite to scientists, the antivax crowd engages in revising the facts to fit their theories.
    They revise the laws of mathematics to suit their desires, regardless of the invalidity of their methods. They revise well established history to meet their needs and desires as well.
    Just as a certain political sub-party did regarding Paul Revere’s famous ride, where they “established” that he warned the British…

Comments are closed.