How to lose an argument, by Peter Hitchens

Yesterday Peter Hitchens confessed that he was ‘wrong on cigarettes but believe me, I’m right on cannabis’ before then demonstrating that when it comes to the dangers of passive smoking he is utterly clueless. Hitchens’ claims that:

No, I never believed the stories about second-hand smoke, and still don’t.

Cigarettes stink and spoil the atmosphere, and anyone who smokes them near others who are eating is inconsiderate and rude. But I think the evidence that they give cancer to anyone apart from the people actually smoking them is very thin indeed.

When even a cursory glance at Wikipedia provides so much evidence (and provides so many references to reputable sources) that I am not even going to attempt to condense it here, you know that there really is no point in trusting Hitchens’ views about Cannabis. It’s almost amusing how Hitchens will cling to the flimsiest anecdotal evidence when it suits his agenda, but will dismiss masses of empirical evidence as ‘very thin’ when it suits him.

115 thoughts on “How to lose an argument, by Peter Hitchens

  1. +1 to what the above poster said re. the Hitchenses. To mis-quote Private Eye; “Are you *sure* they’re by any chance related?”

  2. Ah, well, that is devastating, that is. Wikipedia says it’s all sorted out. The scientific method consists of…looking it up on Wikipedia? I thought a little more effort was required. Readers of my more recent posting(on the subject of ‘Prohibition’) will see that I there set out the nature of the controversy. And I also point out that my doubts arte not self-serving. It would suit my opinion better to believe the ‘secondhand smoking’ claims without question.

    I really, really don’t mind people disagreeing with me. I don’t even mind if they’re rude, as very few of them are any good at being rude, and I have been, over many years, insulted by experts from Alastair Campbell down. It’s the price you pay for being a dissenter from fashionable opinion of any kind.

    But it always seems to me that in an argument it’s unwise to assume that what is self-evident to you is self-evident to others. You need to show some reasons for your opinion. This posting isn’t criticism. It’s just abuse. And its cowardly, anonymous author’s smug assumption of superiority is not justified by any evidence that I can see.

    1. @ Peter:

      It seems common practice for columnists / journalists to dismiss Wikipedia when it suits them as being an unreliable source of information or somehow less valuable a contribution to any subject than – say – their own inane, un-evidenced, un-referenced and often nonsensical musings. Sure, Wikipedia is sometimes unreliable and the occasional hack is embarrassed when they copy and paste made-up stuff from it into their news articles or columns – but that says more about journalistic standards than it does about Wikipedia.

      As I said in my blog post, I linked to Wikipedia because it gives a good overview of the peer-reviewed studies and to many meta-analyses that demonstrate the dangers of passive smoking (as well as links to where such information can be found). In your article you provided no evidence – or even links to evidence – to give your reader any indication of why you do not believe that second-hand smoke is dangerous.

      Furthermore, your abuse of language -describing overwhelming, rigorous scientific evidence as being mere ‘stories’ – makes it perfectly clear that you have never actually considered the evidence. Of course, anyone aware of your body of work knows that what you consider to be fact is merely anything that you personally believe in. What you believe to be false is anything that you do not believe in. Evidence never enters the equation, which is why you write about the world as if it were painfully simplistic, with every issue treated as being a choice between black and white, truth and lies – with you as the only arbiter of which is which.

      This brings me to my final point: people have blogged about you a lot over the years, offering detailed rebuttals based on scientific fact, logic and evidence and it hasn’t impacted upon your extremely narrow, utterly fictional and dysfunctional worldview one bit. Therefore it seems rather pointless to do anything other than point and laugh at your increasingly delusional ranting with a simple link to a wealth of information that demonstrates just why you are wrong.

      Furthermore, I would imagine the fact that such a lazy, 5-minute blog post could utterly destroy your laughable assertion that the evidence (or ‘stories’) about the dangers of passive smoking are ‘very thin indeed’ must be devastating for a man who goes by the label of ‘writer’ or ‘journalist’.

      P.S. I did show reasons for my opinions; I linked to a wealth of evidence supporting the clear link between passive smoking and health consequences. The only person not providing any evidence to support a ‘self-evident’ assertion is you, Peter.

  3. “This posting isn’t criticism. It’s just abuse.”
    Ah bless. It is not abusive to point out that someone claims evidence is flimsy and then provide a link to a long list of evidence.

  4. Angry Mob – 1; Peter Hitchens – A big fat zero.

    I would say those are the words of a man well and truly on the ropes. And it’s somehow ironic that he accuses Uponnothing of abuse, prior to calling him cowardly, smug and superior.

    The less said about Hitchens’s inability to understand “cursory glance at Wikipedia provides so much evidence (and provides so many references to reputable sources)”, the better.

  5. So, the World Health Organisation and the Surgeon General of the United States, to name only two, are not enough for you then, Peter?

  6. Oh Peter, Peter, Peter . . .

    1. The reference to Wikipedia includes “so much evidence (and provides so many references to reputable sources)” – did you not read that bit?

    2. In nobbut a few mouse clicks, you will discover that the blogger is Kevin Arscott – not that anonymous really.

    Hope that’s not too abusive for ya :)

  7. Peter Hitchens is an idiot of the first order who ignores evidence when he deems it inconvenient. I have heard him dismissing the scientific method and peer review process (“whatever that is” were his casually dismissive words about the tried and tested process of peer review) when the evidence differs from his preconceived ideas.

    As for his mock outrage about rudeness, I have heard it all now. Every time he is put on a platform with David Nutt all his does is bandy insults about as he has nothing else of note to say.

    What a horrible little man he truly is. What is truly depressing is how much power he has. I’m not sure what I dislike more, his horrible views or the contrary nature of them. You can almost guarantee if everyone suddenly decided that prohibition was the right way forward he’d start saying we should legalise and regulate. I also don’t think he’s very bright. A powerful and stupid man is a dangerous thing.

  8. Can’t be arsed to re-read his column but my key-take out from it was that Cannabis is bad, as is smoking. Prohibition is working on smoking so we should keep it up with cannabis.

    But smoking isn’t prohibited? I could go and buy a pack of fags now and nonchalantly light up in front of a bobby without fear of anything (Other than him thinking I’m a bit camp smoking through a long cigerette holder)

    So in summary PH’s column makes about as much sense as most of the crap I write. Except he gets paid doesn’t he?

  9. Thanks for the extra abuse, which I shall always treasure. Yes, I know about Wikipedia’s virtues, and have written about them, as my detractors would know if they ever actually read what I write. But I know better than to rely upon its entries for impartial summaries of the state of play on controversial subjects.

    But what is the conclusive evidence that second-hand smoking causes disease? And that Enstrom and Kabat’s findings (the major piece of research on this subject, published eight years ago in the British Medical Journal, which does not support this claim) is wrong?

    Note to other contributors: Do try answering without any ad hominem abuse at all (aimed at me or at Enstrom and Kabat), if only for the joy of the Lenten self-discipline this will require. Or just for the novelty of it.
    The subject’s also open for (reasoned) discussion on my blog.

    1. But that is just one study – and one which is pretty controversial at that – which kind of enforces my original point that you cherry-pick anything that suits your belief system.

      Slightly off-topic, but seeing as you are prepared to engage with bloggers, why not read this excellent piece about a not-to-distant article of yours:

      http://nosleeptilbrooklands.blogspot.com/2010/10/peter-hitchens-not-feminist.html

      You’ll see that we do read what you write – often against our better judgement of not wanting to inhabit an intellectual sphere with someone so simplistically hateful – and we even respond to it with rational arguments.

  10. “But what is the conclusive evidence that second-hand smoking causes disease?”

    The overwhelming statistical correlation – which you’re absurdly denying – between second-hand smoking and various diseases which has been found by dozens of properly conducted studies. Evidence which strikes me as slightly more convincing than the ‘evidence’ which you, an untrained columnist, are able to provide. I don’t really know why I bothered with the inverted commas, actually – since you haven’t provided any. As ever.

    Hey, since you obviously couldn’t take the time out of your busy day to check out any of the other studies which are provided on the Wiki pages, I’ve taken the liberty of linking to a few of them so that you cannot continue to shove your fingers in your ear and glibly ignore them. Should you have any serious objection to their methodology or conclusions, please do let us all know.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC487731/?tool=pmcentrez

    http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/4/386

    http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/5/1048.long

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805004/?tool=pmcentrez

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2882555/?tool=pmcentrez

    On a related note, Peter: you constantly berate, belittle and whinge at or about the people you dislike in your Daily Mail Blog. Kevin’s answer to you was far more civil than what is contained in much of your recent writing.

  11. thing is when I was about twelve foud picture in big trunk that my grandfather left me and t was him and you (Peter Hitchens) sharing a fat cigar and you wer passing it back and forth and wanted to make cartoon box “Box Marley” whee he pop out in cloud of smoke say “Jamming” and disappear, maybe make the box shape like a coffin! In many ways i would like it to be the 1950s too,

  12. I do enjoy when someone pulls out the insults in an argument (“cowardly,” “smug”), then flashes the ‘ad hominem’ card whenever the tables are turned against them.

    An insult is not an ad hominem, Peter. An ad hominem is a fallacious connection between the validity of the argument and the character of the proponent. For example, Peter Hitchens is a supercilious bigot, therefore he is wrong.

    Pointing out that Peter Hitchens is wrong with a valid argument and in addition calling him a supercilious bigot is not an ad hominem. The argument stands on its own without the abuse.

    If you’re going to accuse others of logical fallacies, please do so correctly. Thank you.

  13. Hitchens says:
    ‘It’s the price you pay for being a dissenter from fashionable opinion of any kind.’

    Yes, writing for the daily mail IS the renegade’s paper, changing the narratives and telling the TRUTH and in no way at all appealing to people’s conservative (small c) prejudices. way to go. keep up the crusade!

    that sentence in his comment has made my day! such a sweet lack of irony…

  14. I do wonder why Peter Hitchens would work for the Mail? I always get the impression he’s a bit hindered by them, or maybe their hysteria just fits with his views.

  15. And Peter, if you think that’s an abusive comment, i’d recommend you have a look at the comments stream on the daily mail website. You’ll see some pretty good examples of abusive commenting there.
    It might help you get some perspective.

    Still, props for engaging with the debate!

  16. No ad hominems? Not even calling people “cowardly” or “smug”?

    Also, I like the way you’re still ignoring Uponnothing’s point. He used Wikipedia as a basic example to show that even basic cursory research brought up evidence that supported his view, and pointed out that the article itself is heavily referenced with reputable scientific sources.

    Instead, you choose to ignore this, and act like you’re not even trying to grasp what he’s saying, instead screaming ‘abuse’ and seemingly refusing to cooperate. It looks like you’re ignoring evidence because it’s contrary to what you believe, which, funnily enough, was Uponnothing’s original point.

    Personally I think the title of this blogpost is rather apt, wouldn’t you say?

  17. Peter – There’s plenty of evidence for the harm caused by SHS published if you look for it.

    Try
    Second hand smoke stimulates tumor angiogenesis and growth Zhu, C Heeschen, RE Sievers, JS Karliner… – Cancer Cell, 2003

    or
    Second-hand smoke and human lung cancer[HTML] from nih.gov
    Besaratinia… – The lancet oncology, 2008

    or
    Second hand smoke, age of exposure and lung cancer risk[HTML] from nih.gov
    Asomaning, DP Miller, G Liu, JC Wain, TJ Lynch… – Lung cancer, 2008

    Or type “second hand smoke” into google scholar and browse through the 94,000 papers you get offered.

    One you might particularly like is

    “Tobacco industry efforts subverting International Agency for Research on Cancer’s second-hand smoke study Ong… – The Lancet, 2000″

    Which details the lengths and money put in by the tobacco industry to instill Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt around the dangers of second hand smoke.

    You appear to be helping them for free (I hope)

  18. Since we’re into citations (something you’ll never see on the Mail’s website) here’s a good book for you, Peter.

    “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

    It’s a brilliant account of how right wing fundamentalists (or fascists as I like to call them) distort scientific facts (ranging from passive smoking to the extent of nuclear winter to the environment) in order to further their ideology. Highly recommended.

  19. @Peter,

    I hope that none of what comes across as ad hominem because it’s hard to tread the line between such abuse and reasoned argument when dealing with professional controversialists (which I hope you’d recognise as a reasonable description of yourself?).

    It’s just that we can chuck learned papers at each other all day if you like. What many of your detractors object to is the inductive nature of your arguments. Few of us are ever surprised about what positions you’re going to take – and what makes you marketable from a commissioning editor’s point of view makes you annoying from the viewpoint of anyone who values scepticism and agnosticism (not just of the religious varieties).

    Of course you’re against cannabis. Does anyone seriously imagine that you’ve looked at both sides of this argument and reached a conclusion simply based on the evidence? I doubt if you’d be able to produce a close friend who would claim to believe that this is your method.

    Of course you’re sceptical about all but the most nailed-down claims about smoking!

    Do we need you to confirm this? No. Do we suspect you of either adopting your positions instinctively or carefully selecting which evidence you choose to give house-room to? Of course we do.

    I thought I’d check before posting this by looking at the subject list on the right-hand side of your blog. I noticed things like ‘global warming’, ‘grammar schools’ and ‘death penalty’ and had a guess about what your line would be before I checked. I was right each time and this probably won’t surprise any other readers.

    This doesn’t make me telepathic, by the way.

    Most of the clever people I know on all sides of the political spectrum have a respectable level of doubt – they’d read about the Dunning-Kruger effect and see their own weaknesses in that description – here (on Wikipedia!)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    You don’t. You’re good value for money for newspaper editors but nothing you write is really worth reading.

  20. I disagree with everything Peter Hitchens has ever written. However, he is right in saying that there is no credible evidence that secondary smoking causes cancer. Anyone who says otherwise is toeing the government/health fascist line or are just plain thick

    1. @ Peter Alison

      So, you ‘disagree with everything Peter Hitchens has ever written’, except that you don’t because you think he’s right about secondary smoking.

      Nicely done.

      Also, how stopping people smoking in pubs / public places equates to facism I’m not quite sure.

  21. Peter Alison

    Maybe you could explain, then, how you think smoke breathed from one end of a cigarette is magically different from smoke breathed from the other end of a cigarette.

  22. Let’s recall what I am criticised for saying. I am criticised for saying that the evidence that passive smoking leads to lung cancer is ‘very thin’.
    Not that there’s none, but that it’s thin.

    Right.

    Here are some excerpts from the papers cited by ‘Tom’

    1.
    “Studies based on reports of smoking in a partner alone seem to underestimate the risks of exposure to passive smoking. Further prospective studies relating biomarkers of passive smoking to risk of coronary heart disease are needed”

    Note the word ‘seem’ and the call for further study.

    2. “…may exert detrimental effects on vascular homoeostasis. Recent experimental data provide a deeper insight into the pathophysiological mechanisms linking secondhand smoke (SHS) to CVD. Importantly, most of these effects appear to be characterized by a rapid onset. For example, the relatively low doses of toxins inhaled by passive smoking are sufficient to elicit acute endothelial dysfunction, and these effects may be related, at least in part, to the inactivation of nitric oxide. Moreover, passive smoking may directly impair the viability of endothelial cells and reduce the number and functional activity of circulating endothelial progenitor cells. In addition, platelets of non-smokers appear to be susceptible to pro-aggregatory changes with every passive smoke exposure. Overall, SHS induces oxidative stress and promotes vascular inflammation. Apart from vascoconstriction and thrombus formation, however, the myocardial oxygen balance is further impaired by SHS-induced adrenergic stimulation and autonomic dysfunction. These data strongly suggest that passive smoking is capable of precipitating acute manifestations of CVD (atherothrombosis) and may also have a negative impact on the outcome of patients who suffer acute coronary syndromes. ”

    Count the number of times the word ‘may’ or such phrases as phrase ‘appear to’ is used. See how many times the word ‘is’ or ‘will” appears.

    Another (3) says
    ‘the excess risk from exposure to passive smoking is small,’

    Now, what’s generally cited here is an increase of up to 37% in the (small) risk that non-smokers have of contracting lung cancer.

    That is to say, a small risk is slightly increased.

    Compare this with what we know about ‘active’ smoking:

    Smokers are 25 times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers

    I think that is a 2500% increase in risk, as compared with 37%

    Thin? I think so.

    Could any of my critics be so kind as to have a glance at, and provide their thoughts on, the work of Enstrom and Kabat which I cite? This enormous study seems to me, whatever else can be said about it, to underline the lack of clear evidence that passive smoking is a major risk to health.
    Once again, this is a simple matter of truth for its own sake. I continue to support all the measures to ban smoking in public places (but for other reasons).

    Most of the participants in this discussion are, by my guess, really motivated by resentment of my support for the enforcement of proper laws against cannabis possession, and by my championing of the work of Sir Robin Murray in pointing out the likely link between cannabis-smoking and incurable mental illness. Sir Robin’s work has been a grave blow to the cannabis legalisation campaign, and a lot of people seek to ignore or discredit it (just as Big Tobaccco sought for years to discredit Sir Richard Doll’s pioneering work on cigarette-smoking and cancer – and by the way, Sir Richard didn’t believe second-hand smoking was a major risk).

    This is a proxy attack.

    Another contributor links to an assault on an article I once wrote about the subsidy for fatherless families and why it should be ended for new mothers. As an explanation or summary of my work, it lacks a certain objectivity. In fact it could have been prepared by someone in the GPU during the Stalin purges, so determined is it to misrepresent what I actually say. Good fun, though.

  23. Apart from anything else, accepting the theory that second-hand smoke can’t cause cancer when you accept the fact that first-hand smoke does is so boneheaded it beggars belief. It’s like saying you can’t be stabbed and bleed to death if you accidentally fall on a knife, only if someone thrusts it into you.

    The properties of smoke do not magically change because you’re the person holding the cigarette, nor does it become harmless because you’re not the person holding the cigarette. Fact.

    Smoke from cigarettes causes cancer. Fact.

    The argument that it is something in the cigarette itself that causes cancer rather than the smoke is bunkum – pipe smokers get smoking-related cancer. Water pipe smokers get smoking-related cancer. Chewing tobacco users get oral cancer. Smokers who smoke filter-free roll-ups get cancer. All fact

    The only reason there’s ever been any doubt about the topic of second-hand smoke is because it’s very difficult to prove that cigarette A smoked by person A gave cancer to person B rather than cigarette C smoked by person C, or vice versa, or what proprotion from each was causative. Likewise, you don’t get people queueing up to take part in experiments where they are smoked at and may get cancer.

    So in a nutshell it is not that it has not been proven, but that the ambiguity of not being able to show a direct cause means there is a tiny amount of wiggle room for fudging and weasel-like behaviour from the tobacco companies. Wiggle room they and their shills have exploited to their upmost ability.

    Mr Hitchens, if you’ve fallen for their rhetoric, or believe that the properties of inhaled smoke really can magically change based on who is holding a cig, then I fail to see how you could be trusted to form a sensible, objective opinion on anything. This isn’t so much about evidence, though the papers others have linked to above provide plenty of that, as it is about that most beloved of Daily Mail topics – common sense. Something you seem to be showing very little of if you’re unable to grasp such a simple concept.

  24. “In fact it could have been prepared by someone in the GPU during the Stalin purges, so determined is it to misrepresent what I actually say.”

    is there a stalinism equivalent to godwins law? because bloody hell.

  25. Mr Hitchens has managed to display a complete lack of understanding of the language of scientific publications if he thinks that the use of the words “may” and “appear” completely undermines the results of the studies.

    He also seems to be dismissing all those who disagree with him as a bunch of stoners. Interesting personal attack there Mr Hitchens. It’s a good thing you didn’t specifically tell people not to engage in that sort of thing on this very page, or you’d look ridiculous.

  26. So far, so not very good, especially given the vaunting superiority at the start. Nobody can say anything about Enstrom and Kabat except point out(as is well-known) that the work received Tobacco funding at the end. But why was that, exactly? And can these critics point out any way in which this funding can be seen to have influenced either the very extensive research, begun years before under the auspices of a reputable cancer charity, or the conclusions?

    The BMJ (whose editor had a principled anti-Tobacco record) published it. Would he have done so if it had been flawed?

    Remember, the point under discussion: I said the evidence was thin. It is. The word ‘may’ means the same in a scientific paper as it does anywhere else, that is to say, it is a lot weaker than ‘is’. That is what it is for, to express uncertainty. 37% and 2500% also mean the same in science as elsewhere. The one is a lot smaller than the other.

    As I said, the evidence is thin

    1. @ Peter Hitchens:

      Here are a few bits on the Enstrom and Kabat study:

      “The editors believe that this opinion piece is full of speculative assumptions of doubtful scientific value. We could not judge the merits of your criticisms because your own data and methods were so inadequately described. I should add that your article contains pejorative comments that should have no place in responsible scientific discourse.”

      —Letter from the Journal of the American Medical Association to James E. Enstrom [1]

      The data and design of the Enstrom and Kabat secondhand smoke study has been widely criticized. Even the British Medical Association, the publisher of the journal that printed the study, described the research as being “fundamentally flawed.” [2] The misuse of data and flawed methodology are two very significant faults in the study.

      Enstrom and Kabat did not gather original data for their study. Instead, it drew on data from the ACS’s Cancer Prevention Study (CPS-I), and used only a small subset (approximately 10%) of the total CPS-I data. Researchers at ACS repeatedly warned Enstrom that the data from CPS-I could not be used to determine the health effects of secondhand smoke, and they spoke out against the study upon its release, stating that their data had been misused. [3]

      The study used cohort methodology to look at the rate of mortality from heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmokers who were married to smokers, covering a time period from 1959 to 1998. A severe error in the study was the failure to establish a control group of nonsmokers who were unexposed to secondhand smoke. Other critical methodological flaws include not measuring for secondhand smoke exposure from any source other than the spouse, including workplace (where smoking was extremely prevalent at the time); not taking into account either spouse’s smoking status after 1972, though the study continued for 26 more years; and classifying the nonsmoking spouse as still exposed to secondhand smoke in that 26 year period, during which time the “smoking spouse” could have quit smoking or died, not to mention that they could have divorced or separated.

      1 – Rennie, D. “[Letter from JAMA to James E. Enstrom re: published study.],” Philip Morris, August 23, 1996, Bates No. 2073788479. Accessed on November 17, 2004. Download at http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/kiv85c00.
      2 – [n.a.], “BMA response to BMJ paper ‘effect of passive smoking on health’,” British Medical Association, May 16, 2003.
      3 – [n.a.], “American Cancer Society Condemns Tobacco Industry Study for Inaccurate Use of Data,” American Cancer Society, May 15, 2003.

      Whenever the issue of whether smoking – or passive smoking – is dangerous to health I am always reminded of the careful PR campaign conducted by the tobacco industry at the time:

      Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognise that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health. Doubt is also the limit of our “product”. Unfortunately, we cannot take a position directly opposing the anti-cigarette forces and say that cigarettes are a contributor to good health. No information that we have supports such a claim.
      Smoking and Health Proposal, Bates No. 690010927/0935

      The same PR companies are now engaged creating the same manufactured controversy and doubt about global warming – a debate which rumbles on despite the overwhelming scientific consensus and evidence demonstrating that the earth is warming and the cause is human behaviour – and issues like passive smoking.

      You might think you are a brave cynic, Peter, fighting against the grain or fashion of the times, but really you are just an unwitting corporate voice and therefore your dissent is nothing of the sort.

  27. @Peter Hitchens

    I have followed the debate on the denial of the harm of SHS for some time now, and the same tired arguments by the denialists crop up time and time again, no matter how often they are debunked.

    I do not intend to get involved in a detailed (and tiresome) line by line rebuttal and counter rebuttal of the individual points which these arguments invariably descend into, but I would like to make some general points:

    Taking selected passages from studies and portraying them as proof of your argument(quote mining)actually proves nothing.

    No credible study (or person)has claimed that the risk of harm from SHS is comparible to the harm caused by “active smoking”

    A “sight” increase in a”small” risk of lung cancer can result in a large number of deaths if exposure to the risk is widespread.

    Smoking causes a wide spectrum of harmful dieases – not just lung cancer.

    Comparisons with the study of the effects of cannabis are bogus – this is simply conflation of two different paradigms.

    There was a report in 1993 by the US environmental protection agency which concluded that SHS caused lung cancer in adults and impaired the respiratory health of children.

    This report was subjected to a disinformation campaign campaign by SHS denialists for some time after, which produced this response from the US EPA. You may find it interesting.

    http://www.epa.gov/smokefree/pubs/strsfs.html#the epidemiology studies

  28. Hitchens is wrong on many things, but give the guy credit for coming below the line and fighting it out with his critics, rather than maintaining the haughty stance that journalists are allowed to hover above the fray. One of the few hacks of his generation who actually engages with the Have Your Say feature. (And unlike his brother, he knew the invasion of Iraq was a silly idead from the start.)

  29. Peter
    Perhaps if you gave people more than 3 hours to reply (cos people might be,like,working, or sleeping off last night’s huge spliff smoking session) then you might get some rebuttals to your last major post. Replying within hours shouting “ha, none of you can answer that, can you?!” is a pretty lame argument and symptomatic of someone skating on very thin ice.

  30. Peter,

    You appear to be making two completely separate arguments; arguing on the one hand that evidence passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer is “thin”, whilst on the other hand arguing that it is there, but the increase risk is negligible. These two arguments are at odds: if the evidence is “thin”, then it is impossible to argue the degree. If, on the other hand, the degree is known and can be clarified as “increased risk in the range of 25-30%” (first BMJ article cited by Tom), then the evidence is not thin.

    Your complaint regarding the wording cited from the European Heart Journal is also weak. You have taken the wording from that Abstract, and concluded that the evidence is therefore weak; however the wording used in the Abstract is hardly unusual, and is constitutes neither the methodology nor the results of the paper, let alone the full discussion. Such a complaint would normally be considered ‘selective’. If you look at the article itself, the wording is far from cautious. The conclusion alone starting with the bare fact:

    “Epidemiological evidence clearly indicates that passive smoking is linked to an increase in the incidence of CVD. Extensive clinical and experimental researches have revealed that the acute effects elicited by smoke exposure, including endothelial dysfunction, platelet activation, oxidative stress, and inflammatory reactions are involved in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis (Figure 1)”

    Whilst it then continues in the speculative language one would expect in a paper that does not (and cannot, since these questions arise as a result of study) directly address some of the issues, the paper itself is far from speculative and easily concludes harm from passive smoking.

    Where you are (roughly) correct is in the fact that the increase in risk to disease – regardless of the cause – can be over-stated. This is a legitimate concern. But note the difference: it is legitimate to argue “the increase in risk to heart disease and cancer due to behaviour X is over-stated, if we are to make public health policy it should be argued on the basis of accurate information”, it is not legitimate to argue “the evidence of harm by behaviour X is thin. Public policy is therefore wrong”. One is a legitimate concern, the other is flat-out wrong.

    Of course, if the argument is made that public policy is not being decided on accurate information, it is important to ensure that the information presented is genuinely accurate, which is not something for which the Daily Mail has a particularly good record. One must also be consistent: the same approach should be used for drug use and alcohol.

  31. “The BMJ (whose editor had a principled anti-Tobacco record) published it. Would he have done so if it had been flawed?”

    Quite probably, unless it was clearly fraudulent or plagiarised. Scientific material lives and dies by being tested to destruction in the public domain, and scientific journals publish on the basis of quality of work – not whether the journal editor personally agrees with the findings. To suggest otherwise is actually quite a sleight against the journal editor in question.

    The issue comes where untrained journalists and columnists pick up on work when it’s published in scientific journals, and assume publication in itself makes it infallible (see, for example, the Wakefield fiasco – made all the worse by the media’s slack follow-up in the debunking of the work).

    If you’re not aware of this, please don’t comment on scientific process as you are clearly not qualified to do so.

  32. “In fact it could have been prepared by someone in the GPU during the Stalin purges, so determined is it to misrepresent what I actually say. ”

    Mr Hitchens, are you not deeply embarrassed, not to say ashamed of that comparison? I would be. You claim that someone misrepresented one of your tedious diatribes and you chose to compare that to something that Stalin would do? As ACG says, we need an equivalent of Godwin’s Law for this.

    Nice use of GPU though – most of us would have said NKVD (if we were as tiresome and crass as you), but you use the name they were briefly called two name changes before. Well done – pretentious and shameful. Hurrah!

  33. Peter – without searching for an insight into the issues of the Enstrom study (by people far cleverer than I). In my opinion there’s a glaring deficiency that would stop people from using it to make sweeping statements about the safety of SHS.

    The study is an epidimiological investigation into the effects of SHS on Californians. There’s no control group outside California so it doesn’t guard against the fact there may be other factors in the California lifestyle or environment that infer protection against damage by SHS. Off the top of my head: it’s a nice sunny place do people spend more time outside than in, say, Holland? Or it’s a warm climate does an increased frequency of A/C units in the state offer some protection or something else that I, nor the authors can think of.

    Reading through your recent post on here – where you (intentionally?) mis-understand the language used in scientific papers – it seems we’re winning you over.

    You admit there is an impact on health through exposure to SHS (however small, it exists)but say it doesn’t matter. This could devistate the life of someone’s family, not to mention the person themsleves (Ask Roy Castle…) but then argue that cannibis affecting the mental health of another individual is an issue worth fighting about. Why the disparity?

  34. While considering the work of Enstrom and Kabat, please note the following editorial statement which appeared in the BMJ on 3rd August 2003 (the BMJ having earlier that year published Enstrom and Kabat’s work, despite its editor’s strong opposition to smoking and principled rejection, in his own career, of financial support from Big Tobacco):
    ‘Owing to the charged atmosphere surrounding the issue of passive smoking, our paper provoked strong reactions on bmj.com. The most disturbing reactions have come from the enforcers of political correctness who pose as disinterested scientists but are willing to use base means to trash a study whose results they dislike. They have no qualms about engaging in personal attacks and unfounded insinuations of dishonesty rather than judging research on its merits. The resulting confusion has misled many readers and diverted attention from the facts of the study.’

    I note that I have already been more or less accused here of being a patsy, or even a payee, of the Tobacco Lobby. I assumed this would happen. It is silly. I don’t smoke. I don’t like smoking. Let me stress once more that I entirely support the bans on smoking in public places, which have been justified by the alleged dangers of passive smoking. I think there are perfectly good reasons for this ban, without this argument. I have no interest of any kind, except in fairness and honesty. I had no need to enter into this argument in the first place. It was simply a remark in my original article, not connected to my general argument.

    I’m just irritated by the smug certainties of my detractors, who seem to think that official approval and majority opinion can decide scientific truth. They can’t. And the people who attack me here would rcognise this immediately if they had a dog in the fight, and the rules were being bent as they are here, only against their interests.

  35. Oh, and those who may have got into this argument largely because they think I’m a bad person( and who knows? Maybe they’re right) might like to read this article by Tim Luckhurst(look him up and see if you hate him too)in ‘the Independent (isn’t that the sort of nice unpopular paper you guys like?), published on 2nd May 2006:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/passive-smoking-is-there-convincing-evidence-that-its-harmful-476472.html

    1. @ Peter Hitchens

      I really wouldn’t go down the line of criticising other newspapers considering the newspaper you write for – and the kind of reader that it appeals to.

  36. @ Peter Hitchens

    Remember when you cricised us for alleged “ad hominum attacks” and “abuse”?

    And now you’re accusing us of “smug certainties”?

    When in a hole, glass houses etc etc etc.

  37. Full credit for coming on here and defending your viewpoint (however badly you may be doing it), but you’re starting to sound pathetic with what you’re saying about your detractors and other newspapers.

  38. “who seem to think that official approval and majority opinion can decide scientific truth”

    Erm, no, Peter, we’d just rather trust the mountains of perfectly well-obtained evidence rather than you and a bunch of lobbyists. Don’t take it personally. I’m not saying you’re a payee, as you put it – I certainly have no reason to believe so – but I think you’re deeply wrong on this issue and arguing for the very sake of it.

    Your refusal to seriously engage with the meat of any of the papers I and others have linked is telling. You’re sticking your fingers in your ears, and clearly unfamiliar with the way science, the peer review process and scientific journals operate. Trying to discredit them as you do is beyond pathetic.

  39. Let me try it this way, since I see no evidence that anyone has yet followed the very interesting Tim Luckhurst link that I provided earlier.

    If I say in The Mail on Sunday that evidence for the dangers of passive smoking is ‘very thin, we get what we see above.

    Will the people who are responsible for this treat Mr Luckhurst and The Independent in the same fashion, now that they know he has said in its pages :’If there is a direct causal link between secondary smoking and lung cancer it is so tiny that dedicated campaigners have struggled to identify it.’
    (Amongst other things, in many cases much more critical of the passive smoking theory than I have been).

    If not, then they must ask themselves if their outrage and ferment against my article are the results of reason or of prejudice.

    1. @ Peter Hitchens:

      In your blog you referred to me as an anonymous person, even though my name was given to you almost immediately after you commented on this blog, why did you still refer to me as anonymous?

      Secondly, why not link to my blog post? How can your readers make an independent judgement about what was written if you do not link the blog post you are arguing with (and see the debate in the comments that presumably made you want to write more on the topic)?

      I linked to your post because I value my integrity, I let my readers check for themselves if I have been fair to you.

  40. Who posting in this thread “seem to think that official approval and majority opinion can decide scientific truth”? That sounds awfully like a strawman to me.

    Cherry-picking one dubious, refuted, possibly agenda-driven piece of research which runs counter to the vast body of more rigorous studies does not make one a bold crusader against “majority opinion”, I’m afraid. It’s becoming clear (though I’m hardly surprised) that you understand little of the processes of scientific research, Peter.

  41. I used to hate Peter Hitchens.

    When I first heard of him, I heard that he hated gay people and believed in God and supported the death penalty. How awful, I thought. I’d read him to be enraged and angered, and it worked.

    It was through finding out about Peter that I discovered his brother, Christopher, a man with whom I agree far more often. “Why couldn’t Peter be more like his brother?”, I used to lament.

    But despite all this hate, I was still reading Peter Hitchens’ writings. I was reading his blog on a regular basis, leaving a few thoughts of my own and feeling humbled when I received a reply from the man himself. I clearly enjoyed reading him. I also liked the fact that he engaged with his readers so readily.

    Before long, I realised that it was incredibly stupid to hate someone simply because they disagreed with you. I also learned that Peter Hitchens is just as intelligent, just as eloquent and just as interesting as his brother.

    I still disagree with many of Peter’s viewpoints, but I still read his blog and his column. I like challenging my own beliefs and Peter does that exceptionally well. If you can’t sit back and think to yourself, “actually, is the death penalty really such a bad idea?” then something is surely wrong. I still disagree with it on principle, but many of Peter’s arguments at least made me think about my position with a bit more scepticism.

    I only hope Mr Hitchens is paid more than the relatively untalented Richard Littlejohn, a man with whom I disagree but, crucially, find uninteresting and clichéd.

    I point out that I’m not disagreeing with the premise of this post; Angry Mob is one of my favourite media blogs. My comment is aimed in the direction of a few commenters on this post who thought it was grown-up or mature to throw silly abuse in Peter Hitchens’ direction (thankfully, they’re in a minority).

    Don’t do it. It only makes you look foolish.

  42. “I haven’t criticised any newspapers, as it happens. But mine is very good.”

    No, it’s a cheap, nasty, bilious, agenda-driven tabloid with delusions of grandeur that spins paranoid nonsense. I assume you don’t actually read it that often?

  43. Peter Hitchens is entirely wrong to think that the use of terms such as “may”, “seem” and “appear” are indications of weakness in the evidence presented or hedging by report authors. Such terms are standards of scientific literature and it is erroneous to interpret them as he has interpreted them. I am afraid he has made himself look rather foolish.

  44. So rather than commenting (at all) on the very substantive demolishing of your evidence-free argument, such that it were, you’re complaining we haven’t expressed similar outrage about an article from the Indie four whole years ago? Astonishing; evasive; brazen.

    I’ll be the first to say it, then, if it makes you happy: Mr Luckhurst is as wrong about this as you are, and for the same reasons.

    So, how about a comment on the evidence carefully laid out for you in this thread, rather than persisting in evading it? Will you accept you were mistaken vis-a-vis the status of the evidence for the dangers of passive smoking and the strengths of the Enstrom study, or will you continue to squirm on the end of a hook entirely of your own construction?

  45. I haven’t seen any ‘demolition’ of my argument, merely references to a quantity of scientific papers which support (though not in my view very convincingly)the side of the argument which my detractors happen to take.

    I am aware of them, and that is why I am not convinced by them, and nor are many other people (Do please look at the Luckhurst article. Mr Luckhurst, by the way, is now Professor of Journalism at the University of Kent, where any criticisms should presumably be sent. I’ll watch out for this site’s personal condemnation of him, and its proclamation that he has ‘lost the argument’.

    But look – above all – at the quotation in his article from the ASH official Amanda Sandford. Anybody who’s not given pause by that just isn’t paying attention.

    Unlike me – who simply made a passing reference, never intending to have a debate about this – Mr Luckhurst set out to analyse in detail the state of play on passive smoking and science. I would also urge readers here to read Christopher Booker’s writings on the matter, not least his chapter on secondary smoking in the book ‘Scared to Death’ – except that I’m sure they’d dismiss Mr Booker for being who he is, much as they dismiss me. Personal moral scorn for nonconformists is one of the most disagreeable and persistent characteristics of the modern Left. While I’ve learned to put up with it, I can never like it.

    All I am asserting, remember, is doubt. All I need to establish in this argument is that doubt exists. That’s easy. It does. My detractors, who claim to have won the argument before it started, have the much harder task of producing a definitive study which shows beyond doubt that passive smoking causes a significant increase in the risk to the health of those who undergo it.

    It is no good just dismissing the studies which contradict or undermine this claim. That’s unscientific and intolerant.

    And it’s no good hosing me down like a burst fire hydrant with hundreds of studies which purport to support their view. Views that are fashionable get funding cash, and get published in scientific journals. Quantity establishes nothing in particular. Have they read these studies? I doubt it. When I read them, though obviously I haven’t read them all, I find vagueness and broad claims.

    I’ve named a study which casts severe doubt on the thesis. I don’t get the impression my assailants have paid much attention, because they already know they’re right and aren’t in need of tedious things like evidence.

    But here’s a promise. Can one of my critics (preferably one who has read it) direct me to a first-hand study which definitively and incontrovertibly proves a statistically significant link between passive smoking and any major disease?

    Once we’ve settled on which study that is, then we can argue about it in detail. And if it’s incontrovertible, I’ll change my mind. Why wouldn’t I? I know how it’s done.

    The host of this site complains that I referred to him as an anonymous person. Well, when I wrote that I had no idea of his identity, and couldn’t see any obvious way here of finding out who he was. I’m sure I’m not the only person in this position. If he thinks the word ‘anonymous’ is an implicit criticism, then why doesn’t he post under his own name? As far as I was concerned, it was a statement of fact, and still is.

    I’ll consider linking here if the standard of contributions (ability to argue, etc) rises a bit. At the moment, I’m not inclined to.

    1. @ Peter Hitchens:

      My name appeared in comment 9 on this thread, two hours before you posted your blog entry.

      It must be this level of attention to detail that allows you to take seriously the claims of Christopher Booker – a man who repeatedly claims that white asbestos is “chemically identical to talcum powder” and poses a “non-existent” risk to human health – forcing Timothy Walker, Director General, Health & Safety Executive, to issue this rebuttal:

      CHRISTOPHER BOOKER’S articles on the dangers of white asbestos (Notebook, Jan 13, 27, Feb 10) are misinformed and do little to increase public understanding of a very important occupational health issue.

      White asbestos, particularly in the commercial chrysotile form most commonly found in buildings, is accepted by most worldwide scientific opinion to be a proven carcinogen.

      Whilst the risks from white asbestos are less than they are for other more potent forms of the mineral, recent research – independently peer-reviewed by the international scientific community – confirms that there is a convincing case for taking further action (Hodgson and Darnton, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, December 2000).

      The Health and Safety Executive is extremely concerned about the risks to maintenance workers and others from the thousands of tonnes of asbestos in Britain’s buildings. Asbestos-related diseases cause thousands of deaths every year, with the victims suffering considerable and prolonged pain. Recent high-profile court cases resulting in substantial compensation payments to victims bear testament to this.

      That is why we are bringing in new laws to make sure that the risks from asbestos in buildings are properly controlled. To fail to include white asbestos at this stage would be irresponsible and against the public interest.

      Again, arguing that just because other journalists join you in your contrary opinion a controversy obviously exists is missing the point. Perhaps if I continually published articles on the earth being flat and others joined in we could argue that my position must be valid because a controversy existed? This might sound like an unrealistic scenario, until you realise that this is exactly how big business tackled the commercial problems posed by the health problems caused by smoking and secondary smoke along with the reality of global warming.

      It is a glaring logical fallacy that any position becomes vaguely legitimate when it happens to be held by someone. A lot of young children believe in Father Christmas, this has no impact on the possibility that he is real.

      With regards to a study that you would like to debate, well why not have a look at a meta-analysis (the general aim of a meta-analysis is to more powerfully estimate the true “effect size” as opposed to a smaller “effect size” derived in a single study under a given single set of assumptions and conditions) such as:

      IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans

      Volume 83 (2004)
      Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking

      http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol83/index.php

  46. From the above-mentioned article:

    “These meta-analyses show that there is a statistically significant and consistent association between lung cancer risk in spouses of smokers and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke from the spouse who smokes.”

    And yes, I have read it.

  47. One small point. (I shall read the recommended paper with care when I have time, though an initial glance shows that we are again talking about increased risks of 20% or 30%, that is to say less than one hundredth of the 2500% increased risk from actual smoking, and a different order of magnitude, a point unsurprisingly not addressed by any of my opponents)

    The statement ‘My name appeared in comment 9 on this thread, two hours before you posted your blog entry.’ bizarrely assumes that I am constantly monitoring this site. Unbizarrely, I am not. I visit it from time to time. At the time I *wrote* my entry, I had no idea who this site’s author was and no obvious way of finding out. I’m not quite sure why he’s so exercised about this. He continues to post anonymously, as far as any casual reader is concerned. If he doesn’t like being called anonymous, he should post ( as I do) under my own name.

  48. @ Peter Hitchens

    You may visit this site infrequently, but if you’re going to allude to it, the least you could do is make one final check, don’t you think?

    I still refute your argument that it was difficult to find the site owner’s name: a few mouse clicks is all it would have taken. Would it be ‘ad hominem’ to call you lazy?

  49. But, but, but Peter, are you going to comment on CM Burns’s comment directly above yours? I’ll repeat it, just so we’re all clear:

    “These meta-analyses show that there is a statistically significant and consistent association between lung cancer risk in spouses of smokers and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke from the spouse who smokes.”

  50. Mr Hitchens, it is not the magnitude of the increased risk that is the issue but the fact the increased risk is there and statistically proven. If you were offered a choice of meal with the information that one meal were 30% more likely to give you food poisoning, would you consider that risk negligible? I very much doubt it.

    Also, again note that these results are likely understated because of the incredibly complex nature of gathering data about a secondary, non-direct effect. You would of course expect the direct effect to be higher because the causation is so much more easy to prove. However, it would be foolish indeed to think that hurdles with the methodology somehow make the obvious point that smoke is smoke and smoke doesn’t care who the smoker and who the non-smoker is moot.

    Again, if you disagree then I invite you to explain why you believe the properties of smoke when inhaled change depending solely on whether you are the person holding a cigarette or not. Because that is effectively the argument at hand.

  51. One small point. (I shall read the recommended paper with care when I have time, though an initial glance shows that we are again talking about increased risks of 20% or 30%, that is to say less than one hundredth of the 2500% increased risk from actual smoking, and a different order of magnitude, a point unsurprisingly not addressed by any of my opponents)

    This _has_ been addressed by baldywilson above. As he points out, you appear to be attempting two contradictory arguments at once: first that the evidence is flimsy and should therefore be disregarded, and secondly that the evidence isn’t flimsy, but proves the risk is of a smaller magnitude than first-hand smoking.

    Perhaps you could you clarify which of these positions you’re actually adopting?

  52. A fascinating comment thread, I am impressed that Mr Hitchens continues to engage in the discussion and all credit to him for this. I also note that he has not responded to the critisms of the Enstrom and Kabat study (see comment 39) posted by Mr Uponnothing. Anything to say on this?

  53. It seems Peter’s happy to state a 30% increased risk of lung cancers due to SHS is acceptable. That’s his right, he feels there’s low likelyhood of it happening but (I assume he’ll agree) the severity of the hazard is massive.

    We know his cut off point on risk too.

    His rally against cannabis is supported by recent work (http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d738) published which illustrates the risk of psychotic incidents associated with cannabis use.

    So for Peter an unnaccceptable risk is a 75% increased risk (8% occurance to 14%). Here though (again I think he’d concede) the severity of the hazard is lower.

    Unpleasant as I’m sure psychotic incidents are I think many people would prefer a family member was suffering from the mental illness as opposed to dying from lung cancer.

    Somewhere between 30% and 75% increased risk lies the magic number upon which Peter confers DANGER!

    ps I’ve emailed Prof Luckhurst and let him know his article is wrong. I’ll let you know if I receive a reply.

  54. I don’t see any contradiction at all between saying that evidence is thin and saying that it consciously confuses wholly different orders of magnitude. What rules mandate that this is contradictory? Who made them?

    A 20% or 30% increase in a small risk seems to me to border on the statistically insignificant. Whereas a 2500% increase in a small risk seems to me to look like a serious warning of a kind mandating a change in behaviour.

    What’s more, my detractors (I don’t regard most of those posting here as serious opponents, as they won’t argue properly, are permanently inflamed with impatient, scornful rage, and are uninterested in, and often hostile to, any facts I offer as well as predictably denouncing witnesses I produce) seem to work on the assumption that I’ve said there is *no* evidence.

    But I don’t say that. I say it is ‘very thin’ and I stand by that, not that there’s a specific definition of ‘very thin’, but I think we all know what it means.

    It is very thin, especially compared with the blazingly clear evidence that active smoking is linked to cancer and heart disease.

    Why wouldn’t it be? It is clear to any reasonable person who has watched someone smoke a cigarette (and boy, have I watched a lot of people do that) that smoke sucked deliberately into the throat and lungs is likely to have a much more potent effect on the person involved than dissipated smoke in much smaller concentrations, shallowly breathed, even in a confined space.

    I speak as someone who has never smoked but grew up in a home where one parent smoked cigarettes a lot, and the other a pipe, and who attended schools where many of the teachers smoked, and has worked for much of his life in offices thick with cigarette smoke. And who has always strongly disliked the smell of smoke, and avoided it where possible, though the advent of air conditioning hugely lessened the problem.

    It’s simply not the same as smoking the things, and it would be odd if it had anything like the same result.

    And nothing I have been shown so far alters my opinion on that. On the contrary. I’m baffled at the denunciatory Dalek-like ‘You-will-agree’ passion on this. I’m absolutely not advocating any policy change (on the contrary, I strongly back the smoking bans) , and none of my critics has yet even troubled to acknowledge this curious fact. Why do they think that I bother to argue this at all? Though I have to say, given the treatment I’m accorded here, that question has resurfaced in my mind in another form.

    I have yet to see a single serious attempted rebuttal to the excellent points made in Tim Luckhurst’s article, which seems to me to be conclusive in this matter, that this is a question on which doubt is perfectly respectable.

    Not one. The more it is ignored, the more confident I am that my critics in this matter aren’t actually interested in the subject at all. Just in attacking me, and my newspaper, for reasons of prejudice, the very thing they like to accuse us of all the time, but can’t recognise in themselves.
    Well, there’s a limit to how much of that anyone can be bothered to put up with. Please do try harder to accept that I might have honest motives, and might not be either venal, ignorant or stupid.

  55. [quote] I don’t see any contradiction at all between saying that evidence is thin and saying that it consciously confuses wholly different orders of magnitude. What rules mandate that this is contradictory? Who made them? [quote]

    The contradiction lies in justifying your position on the basis of studies that you’re saying are flawed. The only rules I’m invoking here are those of common sense.

    If you’re saying that the studies indicating a small increase in risk can be trusted and therefore can be used as a basis on which to make an informed decision then that’s a reasonable position to take. While some may disagree with your conclusion that a small increase in risk is tolerable, that’s a matter of opinion that can (& probably will) be argued ad infinitum.

    If on the other hand you’re saying that the studies were suspect and the results should therefore be discarded then using the 37% figure as a basis on which to form your opinion simply doesn’t make sense; you may as well pluck any figure you like out of the air. More importantly, you need to provide some good evidence of why the studies shouldn’t be trusted.

    You also seem to be confusing a difference in order of magnitude with a difference in statistical significance when in fact these are wholly independent concepts. A 37% figure might be shown with a high degree of certainty by high quality studies, or a 1000% increase could be shown with a great deal of uncertainty by flawed studies. It would obviously be a sensible position to make decisions on the basis of the former, but not on the basis of the latter.

  56. “A 20% or 30% increase in a small risk seems to me to border on the statistically insignificant”

    Personal opinion of statistical importance, irrelevant to the facts. And, might I add, ridiculous. A 30% increase in risk is still a huge increase – the proven risk of direct smoking being magnitudes larger simply shows how incredibly toxic cigarette smoke it is. You can be killed by a bullet or killed by a cannonball – the fact the cannonball is much larger, does more visible damage and is easier to spot does not make the bullet any less deadly.

    “…they won’t argue properly”

    No, they won’t lay down and be quiet. Another sleight. If you want people to be forced to play your game by your precise rules, I suggest you retreat behind the safety of the Daily Mail firewall.

    “I speak as someone who has never smoked but grew up in a home where one parent smoked cigarettes a lot, and the other a pipe, and who attended schools where many of the teachers smoked, and has worked for much of his life in offices thick with cigarette smoke. And who has always strongly disliked the smell of smoke, and avoided it where possible, though the advent of air conditioning hugely lessened the problem.

    It’s simply not the same as smoking the things, and it would be odd if it had anything like the same result.”

    All complete conjecture and opinion, scientifically meaningless, and yet again ignoring the methodical issues with showing the same level of causality in a secondary effect and using that as reason to assume the effect does not exist or is very weak.

    Give us evidence to support your position that the properties of smoke change depending on whether you’re holding a cigarette/pipe/cigar or not. Any at all will do.

    “I’m baffled at the denunciatory Dalek-like ‘You-will-agree’ passion on this.”

    Because every doubter in a position to influence others, as you are through your newspaper column, does the work of the tobacco industry for them. An industry that, should you have a working knowledge of tobacco control (which I assume you haven’t), you’d be aware uses every single underhand method in the book to get people hooked. It is not that there is some sort of totalitarian desire to get you to fold. It is simply this: second hand smoking is harmful. Saying it is not adds strings to the bow of the tobacco industry. It undermines tobacco control efforts that absolutely and unequivocally save lives. If you egotistically think this about point scoring against you, shame on you. You are simply not that important as a person – what is important is the fact you have a platform to the wider community, and you are using that platform to spread misinformation. This is about preventing appalling illnesses being inflicted on people needlessly, not how important it is to score points against Peter Hitchens. You’re a columnist on a mid-market tabloid aimed at retirement-age small c conservatives, not some great thinker or respected world leader or elder statesman. For pity’s sake, get over yourself.

    “The more it is ignored, the more confident I am that my critics in this matter aren’t actually interested in the subject at all. Just in attacking me, and my newspaper, for reasons of prejudice, the very thing they like to accuse us of all the time, but can’t recognise in themselves. Well, there’s a limit to how much of that anyone can be bothered to put up with.”

    And here we have the preparatory material for your imminent departure under a claim of being victimised.

    The title of this thread needs amending. It should be “how to lose an argument and how to be the very poorest of poor losers by Peter Hitchens”.

  57. That sounds like our friends’ taking his ball away and refusing to play any more unless the rules are changed . . .

  58. Mr Burns asks :’If you were offered a choice of meal with the information that one meal were 30% more likely to give you food poisoning, would you consider that risk negligible? I very much doubt it.’
    I think one has to ask ‘30% more likely than what?’. The words ‘more likely…’ really need to be followed by ‘than’. And here’s an important point. The lung cancer risk for a non-smoker is quite small. A sense of proportion is required here. The huge effort to discourage smoking (including, in my view, the bans in restaurants, pubs and offices) is justified by the grave risk (2500% increased)of cancer and death (1500% increased) attached to this unpleasant and rather recently-established habit. But if it were for second-hand smoke alone, I just don’t think it would be. The fuss is disproportionate. It is of course quite possible to fall and hurt your head on the way downstairs. But a law mandating compulsory helmet-wearing on stairs would be an over-reaction to that undoubted risk.

  59. I obviously need to point out again that it is my critics who have the burden of proof on them. Its they who maintain that the science is unassailable, settled and convincing. Yet people on their own side acknowledge that this isn’t so.

    How can it be when, according to the
    IARC Monographs (recommended to me by supporters of this belief)

    P.1192

    ‘there are still no standardized criteria for the development of experimental atmospheres that represent secondhand tobacco smoke (Jenkins et al., 2000)’?

    That is to say, there is not even any agreed base on which to make experiments.

    Then there’s Amanda Sandford, of ASH, who told Tim Luckhurst (in an article I still cannot persuade most contributors here to read or respond to):’ She said : “A lot of the studies that have been done on passive smoking produce results that are not statistically significant according to conventional analysis.”

    And (also from Luckhurst) :’Dr Ken Denson, a medical professional who is prepared to say what others only think, puts it more bluntly: “The ill effects of passive smoking are still intuition rather than scientific fact.. All in all, the medical evidence for any deleterious effect of passive smoking is extremely tenuous and it is unlikely that it would ever stand up in a court of law.” A recent report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer reveals that, “In total, 23 studies have been published on [workplace] exposure to secondhand smoke. Only one reported a statistically significant association between exposure to second hand smoke at the workplace and risk for lung cancer.” One out of 23 is usually dismissed as a rogue result.’

    I said the evidence for the risks of second hand smoke was ‘very thin’. My critics have chosen to believe that I said soemthing different, and then attacked me for that. I’m used to this. But it doesn’t work. It’s implied that I suggest there is no evidence, or that I have cast doubt on the methodology or honesty of the papers published. I haven’t. That’s what they try to do to the courageous scientists who publish material which doesn’t fit their fashion because they recognise that their main duty is to pursue truth.

    I have been very patient here. Remember, the host of this site wrote here on 20th December 2009, under a headline which declared that I was insane.

    ‘You should never judge someone by how they look, but I think in the case of Peter Hitchens we should at least address the fact that he looks evil. I won’t post a picture of him here because I don’t want his face scaring the occasional visitor that happens across this blog. He looks like the kind of person that has chopped his family into pieces and keeps various body parts in the fridge and freezer. He has the kind of face that scares local children who concoct rumours that he secretly kills dogs and eats them, if any kind of ball went into his garden no kid would dare fetch it.’

    He went on, using four-letter expressions, to misrepresent my opinions with crudity and inaccuracy. So we know how he behaves and thinks, when he thinks he’s among friends. Even so he has the nerve to behave as if he is a sort of moral and truthful monitor of conservative newspapers, and qualified in some way to criticise their columnists for intemperate language. And yet I still think it worthwhile to come here and try to debate the question.

    I will continue to respond to any intelligent comments here. But I have noticed many times in the past that those who have doubts about their own treasured opinions tend to become angry and abusive when those doubts are expressed by others. And I think this is another instance of that. Never mind. Changing your mind is difficult and painful as I know, having done it when I ceased to be a leftist. But it’s worth the effort. I recommend giving it a try one day.

  60. Peter Hitchens represents everything I detest about traditional conservatism.

    He gets a really easy ride at his blog where his sycophants swoon and fawn all over his every word, and his critics are moderated and removed. So it’s good to see so many people argue against his irrational dismissal of scientific evidence here in open debate.

    Anyone who is familiar with Peter Hitchens’ writings will know he also denies the evidence which supports the theory of evolution, denies that dyslexia and ADHD exist, and also pretends that there is no such thing as physical addiction to alcohol, heroin and other drugs. According to Mr Hitchens, ‘addicts’ and ‘alcoholics’ are just weak-willed hedonists lol. He also demands that Christianity be ‘taught as truth’ in our schools, and that the police be given the powers to mete-out summary justice, including punishment beatings.

    If, like me, you find Hitchens’ hard-right denial of and opposition to scientific evidence, reason and progress disturbing and inhumane, you might want to register your support at the ‘Peter Hitchens:Voice of Evil’ Facebook group. But it doesn’t really matter, because no matter how hysterical and desperate Hitchens ravings become, there is no chance that the UK will ever return to the dark days of conformism, deference and ‘polite reserve’ that Hitchens longs for.

  61. As others have mentioned, Mr Hitchens is confusing a relatively small risk with a small amount of evidence for that risk. The risk of getting cancer from someone else’s smoke may be low, but the evidence that it happens is substantial.

    If I play the lottery, my chances of winning are very thin. It doesn’t follow that there is very thin evidence to link playing the lottery with winning it. That link is proven beyond doubt – what’s in doubt is whether my numbers will come up.

  62. @ Peter Hitchens

    I’m glad you read that post, and as I wrote in it:

    I appreciate that all of this is rambling rubbish, but how else can you respond to a Peter Hitchens’ column…?

    I admitted – twice in the post – that I had pointlessly ranted, but how else can you engage with a writer who actually claimed in the column that I was writing about that: ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

    People interested in the complete post can read it here (because Peter seems to have an aversion to linking to sources). As for misrepresenting what was Peter had written – with crudity no less – I find that pretty funny, considering that the arguments I was discussing were about as crude and simplistic as it is possible to get (even by the standards of the Mail).

    Let us not forget, this is a man who earlier in this comment thread read this post by No Sleep ’til Brooklands and concluded:

    it could have been prepared by someone in the GPU during the Stalin purges, so determined is it to misrepresent what I actually say…

    Funny, isn’t it Peter, how everybody who engages with you seems to ‘misrepresent’ what you write, when all they are really doing is quoting you (word-for-word) and commenting.

  63. Well, GOTCHA! Our host (in the course, hilariously enough, of trying to rebut my allegation that he misrepresnted me) alleges that I said :
    ‘‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘
    But a moment’s check on the original article, still displayed on the web, finds that I did not say this at all. I in fact said something significantly different.
    ‘So many of our leaders now are unrepentant illegal drug-takers themselves that they shouldn’t be trusted near the making of laws.’

    Not ‘most’, a statement that probably isn’t true and would be very hard to establish. But ‘So many’, a wholly different statement.

    Now, our host may wriggle and excuse himself as much as he likes, and may even attempt to claim (though he will be wrong) that the two statements are broadly similar. It appears in quotation marks, as direct speech, not as indirect reported speech. Convention therefore dictates that it must be precisely what I said.

    But this is direct misquotation, either amazingly incompetent or deliberate falsification. He could not have cut and pasted it, or it would have been correct. There is, I note, something rather odd about the arrangement of the quotation marks in our host’s version. But they are there, in such a way as to misnform readers that the words he has altered were in fact mine.

    Either he copied it out wrongly, in which case he is a buffoon. Or he altered it for effect. In which case what is he?

    The buffoon solution is the kindlier one, but is it really possible in the days of computers for anyone to pass up the simple act of cutting and pasting when it’s available?

    I have to say that this behaviour causes me to fear that this comment may not be posted here. Our host need not worry. I shall post it on my own blog, and if he doesn’t post it here, I shall make it clear that I submitted it here and it was not published.

    How else can you engage with a writer who twists your words in public forums?
    It’s nbot quite true, is it that ‘all they are really doing is quoting you (word-for-word)’?

    Eh?

    1. @ Peter Hitchens

      I post all comments, I don’t moderate in the same way as MailOnline.

      So, a Blogger makes a small mistake, shock horror, I rush out blog posts in my spare time and I have never claimed to be perfect. What I don’t do is permanently and purposefully misrepresent reality in the way you do – you can gleefully shout ‘gotcha’ as much as you like, it doesn’t make your original, ludicrous claim any better.

      Also, in what way did the No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands misrepresent what you said?

    2. @ Peter Hitchens

      Looks like I was rather too keen to accept that I had made a mistake then. Having looked again at my comment I can see that I am not mistaken, you are – again. Look at what I copied and pasted from my December 2009 post into the comment:

      ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

      What is contained within the inverted commas is my writing from that blogpost, only the four words in speech marks are directly attributed to you – anyone who understands the basics of quoting a source would understand this. Granted, my introduction to the quote was clumsy, and for that I apologise. However, it does not change the fact that in the comment I demonstrate through inverted commas and speech marks what words were mine and what were yours, as well as linking to the blog post so that anybody could read what I actually said (and which quotes your original comments so readers can decide whether I have been fair to you or not).

      Fairness, misrepresentation? You have claimed in your post that:

      Now, our host may wriggle and excuse himself as much as he likes, and may even attempt to claim (though he will be wrong) that the two statements are broadly similar. It appears in quotation marks, as direct speech, not as indirect reported speech. Convention therefore dictates that it must be precisely what I said.

      But, take another look at my comment Peter, take a look at my original blog post: I never put the ‘most’ claim into quotation marks – only you did when you copied it into your comment and added them in. Here is the original blog post, copied and pasted as is:

      To actually write down that most of our elected leaders are ‘unrepentant illegal drug-takers’ and that somehow this has led to a person who (with two accomplices) chased down and beat the shit of out someone with various weapons being sent to jail.

      Granted, I am interpreting your ‘many’ to mean most, but I entitled to do that, I am not directly quoting you as you can see – and again, given that your original quotation in full is given above in the original blog post any of my readers could decide for themselves if what I said was fair – and if they posted a comment arguing with my interpretation then I would post it.

      Will you now admit that you got this wrong? And that you were wrong to make the claim that I am either a ‘buffoon’ or ‘altered it for effect’, when – as any reader can see – the only person to misquote the other is you?

      So, if this is really the best ‘gotcha’ moment you can come up with after days of posting here then I think I’m probably not misrepresenting you that badly.

  64. Peter, I don’t believe you are “either venal, ignorant or stupid”. You either say what you say for cheap effect and to be controversial for the sake of it, or you are genuinely mentally ill and need help. I actually pity you.

    Still, fair play to you for coming on here to slug it out. None of the other “journalists” that work at the Mail would do the same.

  65. This has been entertaining to read through but ultimately pointless because you’re trying to argue with a man who will not listen to you.

    What’s good about it though is that it’s like the Mormons coming to your house, or a cold-call from a telephone scam: if you keep them talking they can’t then go fuck about with an idiot whom they will be able to influence.

    Keep up the good work – keep him talking ’til the concrete evidence comes along to finish it off.

  66. This is all so horribly familiar. Peter Hitchens will make some outrageous statement about this, that or the other… someone will justifiably criticise him, and Hitchens will respond by claiming he is being ‘misrepresented’. This is a familiar tactic. I once pointed out the amazing similarity between the content of Mr Hitchens’ articles and the BNP manifesto, to which Hitchens responded by claiming that I was accusing him of being a BNP supporter – which I never have. Hitchens used this fabrication as an excuse to ban me from posting at his blog.

    Mr Hitchens frequently claims that he is being ‘smeared’ or ‘misrepresented’ whenever someone cuts through all of the bullshit and gets to the heart of what Hitchens is claiming. Hitchens is very good at fuelling the prejudices of his readership, without explicitly damning the thing he seeks to demonize. On particularly contentious issues, he’ll often refer to any bogus scientific and loose anecdotal evidence which corresponds with his own (misguided and irrational) prejudice, and let the readers form their own opinion.

    The most famous recent example of this was Mr Hitchens’ spat with Matthew Parris over the issue of homosexuality. Now, get this. Hitchens’ Christian ‘faith’ tells him that all sex outside of *heterosexual* marriage is ‘wrong’. Mr Parris rightly pointed out that therefore, it follows that Mr Hitchens thinks that homosexual relationships are ‘inferior’. To which Hitchens responded by accusing Mr Parris of misrepresenting him… in the process dismissing homosexuality as a ‘tiny side-issue’. To any casual observer, it is clear that Mr Hitchens’ belief that society should only endorse ‘lifelong heterosexual marriage’ disadvantages, stigmatizes and discriminates against gay relationships, even if they are lifelong and monogamous. This is a great way for Mr Hitchens to demonize and disapprove of homosexuals, without actually saying ‘I hate gays’ – remember Hitchens’ article “We show tolerance to ‘gays’ and get tyranny in return…”

    Anyway, Mr Parris made a one-off statement at Hitchens’ blog, and then wisely dropped out of the argument, knowing that the facts speak for themselves.

    Since when Mr Hitchens has declared that he will not discuss the issue of homosexuality in future (except when it suits him lol), because he refers to the homosexual issue as the ‘Stalingrad’ of social conservatism lol. Within a few days of Hitchens declaring his self-imposed moratorium on the issue, Hitchens used his MoS column to defend Dr Raabe’s scurrilous and dishonest claim that homosexuals are more likely to be paedophiles. When Mr Hitchens was challenged on this, he again attempted to wriggle out of the argument by claiming he was attacking the decision to drop Dr Raabe from the drugs advisory board, and that the homosexual aspect was a side-issue.

    And this is what Hitchens does… he’ll make a silly and totally unfounded statement like ‘so many of our leaders now are unrepentant illegal drug-takers’ – a statement designed to give the impression to his dopey traditional conservative readership that the House of Commons is, well, full of unrepentant illegal drug-takers, and then, when someone rightly points out that Hitchens is playing fast and loose with logic, reason and fact, Hitchens will deflect attention from the egregious disingenuousness of his original statement by arguing over technicalities.

    Mr Hitchens seems to think that by pretending to ‘tolerate’ homosexuals, he can then justifiably disapprove of homosexual practice. In the same way, you know that anyone who starts a sentence with the words, “I’m not sexist, but…”, is about to contradict himself.

  67. Hitchens’ denial of the scientific evidence which demonstrates the serious health risks associated with ‘passive smoking’, shows that even when Hitchens may be right about something (restrictions on smoking in public places), it’s usually for the wrong reasons.

    Hitchens opposes the war in Afghanistan (fair enough), but his constant accusation that politicians who support the war don’t care about the causalities is highly offensive and does nothing but harm to his anti-war argument. Hitchens’ latest woeful attack on the ‘liberal elite’ sees him criticising Wootton Bassett’s name change. “Royal Wootton Bassett indeed. What a silly gimmick. The town now has a name that’s longer than its own High Street, and why? Because we have a Government that sentimentalises the deaths of men who it sends to pointless doom…”

    Until Mr Hitchens rationally accepts that one can support the war *and* respect and honour the sacrifice of the fallen, then his opposition to the war will continue to fall on death ears. Likewise, pretending that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist is hardly going to win Mr Hitchens much sympathy from anyone, including those opposed to the war in Afghanistan.

    And speaking of outrageous statements, how about this smattering from his latest MoS column…

    “The panic-mongering coverage of the Japanese nuclear power station’s troubles has been little short of moronic. The threat is elsewhere. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, is far more dangerous to health and safety than the Fukushima reactors.”

    Nice and balanced approach there Mr Hitchens. Not only does Hitchens naively defend the tobacco industry by claiming the risks from ‘passive smoking’ are exaggerated, and unwittingly supports the illegal drugs gangs by opposing the decriminalizing of cannabis… now he suggests that we should cover-up the dangers of nuclear power because he thinks that unsightly wind turbines blighting his ‘green and pleasant’ English countryside is worse than children living near nuclear power plants developing leukaemia.

    Hitchens, predictably defends the doltish comments made by the producer of the suffocating banal middle-class Midsomer Murders by stating, “…look at the endless, unlikely politically correct storylines in so many other dramas. It’s all Left-wing wishful thinking, lesbian kisses, heroic transsexuals, Hindus marrying Christian vicars…”

    Lol, I see, so lesbian kisses are left-wing, and transsexuals can’t be heroic. Then again, Hitchens always seems to describe homosexuals who support the Tory Party, as being ‘not proper conservatives’. Or am I misrepresenting Mr Hitchens again…?

    “…when the Prime Minister announces this folly (Libya) he is praised. Why? Partly it is because we all watch too much TV. Its reports simplify, then exaggerate. Reporters, much like politicians, like to feel they are helping to make history, and get excited by subjects they knew nothing about until last Wednesday.”

    Hmmm, what Mr Hitchens is really saying is that it would be far better for everyone to rely on the balanced, dispassionate and honest reporting found in the Daily Mail lol. That way, Hitchens can spend a fortnight in China, South Africa or Kazakhstan, and write the most appallingly cynical, xenophobic and fallacious garbage about Britain’s foreign aid budget being used to fund Chinese abortions…

    Hitchens will stop at nothing in his attempts to whip-up xenophobic hysteria amongst his idiotic little-Englander readership, hence his hatred of anything that encourages international co-operation, such as free trade, the Olympics, international courts, liberal-interventionist wars and the United Nations.

  68. ‘I am interpreting your ‘many’ to mean most, but I entitled to do that,’
    How very funny.

    ‘Many’ and ‘most’ mean entirely different things. The whole meaning of the statement is altered by subsituting the one for the other,(unaltered it is demonstrably true. Altered it is an absurd claim) not to mention leaving out the word ‘so’ which likewise alters the sense. What do they teach them in these schools?

    Certainly not honesty, or contrition when caught in the wrong.

    The host of this site deliberately falsifies a quotation, and this is the best he can do?

    The words

    ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

    appear in his most rceent posting within quotation marks. Whom was he then quoting?

    Well, obviously, himself.

    He may say what he likes. And he may wriggle, as I predicted he would. But any claim he has to superiority over the newspapers he so loftily sneers at is gone for good.

    ‘Upon nothing’ indeed.

    1. @ Peter Hitchens

      I think this just about sums up why it is pointless arguing with you.

      As per my previous post, I explained – very clearly – the conventions of quoting someone. I quoted myself in inverted commas and put speech marks around the four words written by you – as per convention.

      If you cannot grasp this simple fact and instead choose to ignore it and ramble on that I have still misquoted you – when, as per my previous post – you were the only person to use speech marks around the whole lot and were the only person guilty of falsifying a quotation.

      And again, you ignore the fact that you were quoted in full, in your own words just before I added the ‘most’ so how could I possibly be trying to misled my readers – I were trying to do that I would never give my opponents a voice (by quoting them) or the link to the sources so they can easily check the truth themselves.

      You can mock education and ‘the host of this site’ all you want, I am sat here in the knowledge that you are wrong and you can’t even bring yourself to admit that your ‘gotcha’ moment was in fact you completely misreading the words in front of you – out of ignorance or simple-mindedness.

    2. @ Peter Hitchens

      And anyway, your ‘gotcha’ moment was about a technicality that I had got correct and you were in the wrong, so you can dodge that by arguing about more and most all you want but it won’t alter the fact that you have made yourself look very foolish, again.

  69. Look, I’m no scientist but surely if smoking a cigarette increases the chance of you getting cancer then breathing in the smoke from that smoker/cigarette does too, but probably less so?

    Is that too simplistic?

    To be fair if the Mail told me the sky is blue I’d have to look outside to check.

  70. #83 Except the Left is opposed to what you euphemistically call ‘free trade’ and ‘liberal interventionist wars’ and by associating them with the struggle against racism and homophobia, you’re just entering into the same idiotic ‘liberal elite’ mindset as Hitchens, merely putting a plus where he puts a minus.

  71. How to lose an argument by Peter Hitchens: attempt to derail the argument by arguing semantics whilst ignoring any and all points thrown your way.

    For extra points, throw in a smug, condescending tone whilst accusing your opponents of doing the same.

  72. It’s a shame this has degenerated into an argument over a technicality. Whether Uponnothing’s use of quotation marks was correct, the word ‘most’ DID misrepresent Mr Hitchens’ statement. It was probably an honest mistake because it was a silly and pointless trap to fall into, and unfortunately it’s allowed Mr Hitchens to ignore arguments put to him in favour of the sort of daft point-scoring (“gotcha!”) I thought he was against. Do we REALLY win a debate by just finding something – anything – to discredit our opponent? Even if it has nothing to do with the subject whatsoever?

    I will say that regardless of the arguable slip-up Mr Hitchens takes such delight in, this blog has a looooong way to go before it approaches the depths of outright viscious lies, misrepresentations and hypocrisy contained within that godawful “newspaper” he writes for. It is superior indeed.

  73. I do hope Mr ‘Nothing’, who has made himself look a prize fool without any aid from me, just keeps on digging. I urge him to carry on claiming that ‘many’ means the same as ‘most’ and that quotation marks don’t mean you’re directly quoting the person to whom you attribute the words enclosed within those marks.

    Or even that if you mix up a false attribution made by yourself with words actually written by another person, and then attribute the resulting misrepresentation to that person, it is legitimate, provided that you shift from single to double inverted commas. I should have thought that made it worse, not better, but what would I know?

    Where can I get the book uf usage that explains this?

    .

    Please do. Also, he should carry on claiming that it was only a minor falsehood (see ‘Only a Little Bit Pregnant’). Falsehood is falsehood. Misrepresentation is misrepresentation.

    They’re wrong.

    Or it’s a ‘technicality’. Sounds like Richard Nixon to me.

    And then he should remind himself of the title he gave to this discussion. At this point, I think I shall say ‘Goodbye’.

    My point is made. We are not here dealing with serious critics, but with people who are ready to misrepresent their opponents, and to decorate their misrepresentations with abuse.

    And when found out, not only not prepared to withdraw and apologise, but bouncily confident that they are still in the right.

    That’s in itself pitiable and regrettable. But combined with this blog’s snooty, superior attitude towards conservative mid-market newspapers (and their readers) it is quite delicious.

    This particular vicar’s sermons on accuracy and so forth will be rather devalued in future, I fancy. Though his devoted, enraged partisans will presumably be as uninterested in truth and fairness as they have been throughout our little encounter, and stick by their preacher-man. Your world, and welcome to it.

  74. Oh, one last thing before I go. Mr ‘Nothing’ does not even read his own contributions:

    See first

    Post No. 76, March 19th, 7.12 pm. Contributor ‘Uponnothing':

    ‘I admitted – twice in the post – that I had pointlessly ranted, but how else can you engage with a writer who actually claimed in the column that I was writing about that: ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

    People interested in the complete post can read it here (because Peter seems to have an aversion to linking to sources).’

    Post No. 85, March 20th 10.37 am, contributor ‘uponnothing’

    ‘you (meaning me) were the only person to use speech marks around the whole lot and were the only person guilty of falsifying a quotation.’

    So when he wrote ‘*a writer* (singular, referring to me) who *actually claimed* , *’in the column that I was writing about’* that: (within quotation marks in post No 76, cut and pasted as written)

    ‘most of our elected leaders are “unrepentant illegal drug-takers”‘

    he didn’t enclose the whole quotation in speech marks?

    Oh yes, he did, as we used to say at the pantomime. Gosh, this is is funny.

    Analyse subject, verb and predicate. A writer.
    Actually wrote. Not just ‘wrote’, which would have been a simple lie, but qualified and strengthened to say ‘actually’ wrote. (The word ‘actually’ being normally used to emphasise the truth of the attribution, and indeed draw attention to its folly).

    As if to say ‘Yes, he really said this folks!’
    (only, as it happened, the writer didn’t really say it. Mr ‘Nothing’ changed it to twist its meaning)

    This specific, unambiguous statement of falsehood is then followed by the words (never written by me) in quotation marks. If that is not intended to convey that I personally wrote those words, in my column, then what in the name of all that’s holy *is* it intended to convey?

    I’m not sure I can stand the pathos of this.

    1. @ Peter Hitchens

      Inverted commas are not speech marks, if only you could understand this you would realise who is looking like a fool here.

  75. Has anyone here heard the adage that “you can’t win Internet arguments”?
    Well, you can’t. Don’t deny it.

  76. Oh Joy. I am compelled to return once more, if only to gloat a little more. Mr ‘Nothing’ states: ‘Inverted commas are not speech marks, if only you could understand this you would realise who is looking like a fool here.’

    I think this is what is called a distinction without a difference.
    He enclosed the words in inverted commas. All of them. And he said I had written them.

    I hadn’t written them.

    Or is there a bit in Fowler that I haven’t noticed which says ‘single quotation marks are normally used to tell lies’?

    Is that clear now?

    Can he please explain what the inverted commas, combined with his introductory statement, were intended to say, if not that I had written the words for which he then so confidently and self-righteously insulted and derided me?

    Heaven help anyone who came under the stern gaze of Mr ‘Nothing’ who used this sort of excuse. But, while he judges, he declines to be judged.

    I am sorry for him. If he had any shame, this site would surely be finished by this unrepentant twisting of the truth.

  77. Peter Hitchens – “If he had any shame, this site would surely be finished by this unrepentant twisting of the truth.”

    Oh the irony. This from someone (Mr Hitchens) who presides over the most biased and moderated blog I have ever come across on the internet. Peter Hitchens isn’t interested in truth… Peter Hitchens decides for himself what the ‘truth’ is before inventing, distorting and misrepresenting whatever ‘facts’ suit his warped and inhumane perspective on the world.

    Considering the human tragedy that continues to worsen in Japan, and the heroic work of the Japanese to prevent a nuclear disaster, I hope the following sickening and callous quote from his latest MoS column will haunt Peter Hitchens for the rest of his journalistic career…

    “The panic-mongering coverage of the Japanese nuclear power station’s troubles has been little short of moronic. The threat is elsewhere. The Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, is far more dangerous to health and safety than the Fukushima reactors.”

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Hitchens soon argues that those beastly wind turbines cause childhood leukaemia… perhaps he could ask Andrew Wakefield, Ben Stein, Christopher Monckton and Christopher Booker to provide the ‘evidence’.

  78. “If he had any shame, this site would surely be finished by this unrepentant twisting of the truth.”

    Uponnothing has been open about the truth, readily admitting what you actually said, but unrepentant about his use of semantics. Honestly I don’t know why, firstly because you did have a point, and secondly because that point had NOTHING to do with what was almost a reasonable debate about passive smoking. Uponnothing seems to have accepted this debate on your terms (ie scoring the first point on any arbitrary issue that comes to hand, then running away claiming victory) instead of conceding and getting back to the actual subject. A shame.

    Of course I know you’re needling us, but The Daily Mail is guilty of unrepentant truth-twisting to an infinitely greater and more sinister degree than this stupid matter which has been elevated beyond its importance by both parties. By the standards you’re holding Uponnothing to, your newspaper ought to be finished a zillion times over. If you don’t realise that, you’re either deluded or you’ve never read The Daily Mail.

    1. @ Outroar

      You make a fair point. Hitchens’ was accusing me of something that I felt I was not guilty of, I felt that a simple explanation of the matter (and an apology on my part for the clumsy way in which I introduced something I copied and pasted a sentence I wrote a couple of years ago) would have moved the matter back to the passive smoking debate. The trouble is my mistake was an honest one – I clumsily introduced a quotation combining both my words and his – and he raised a fair point that this could be misleading. I apologised, pointed out that the inverted commas and speech marks differentiated his words and mine and that I had linked to the original post so that anyone interested could clearly see his original words and mine. No conspiracy, no attempt to purposefully misquote him or twist the truth. I thought that would enable things to move forward, it didn’t – obviously – but I’ll leave it that.

      If Peter wants to add anything about the passive smoking debate he is welcome to, after all, what I copy and paste onto a website has no impact on the validity or otherwise of the passive smoking debate that was ensuing before.

  79. Harry Rose, you have a nerve writing the things you have written in comments here, especially post 98. Hitchensblog may be moderated, but it accepted posts from yourself for nearly a year, as you well know. This would have continued had you not created dozens of sock puppets and told visitors to your Facebook page that “[Hitchens’] domestic articles incite BNP-esque xenophobia” amongst other slurs. I say this here because I doubt that Hitchens will reply to you directly, despite your attempts to bait him by calling him a liar. (“Peter Hitchens isn’t interested in truth… [etc]”)

  80. @Peter Hitchens

    Despite UponNothing’s original comment which caused the tangential discussion on most/many and the syntax of quoting, he has actually spent the last few quotes explaining his intentions (despite any subsequent grammar faux pas).

    The fact that you seize on pedantry within grammar to distract the discussion away from passive smoking is testament to your style of journalism.

    Oh and can I direct you to this definition of ‘many':

    http://www.answers.com/topic/many

    Seems they think most is an accepted synonym. Using one instead of the other does not distort your original meaning when you called the government potheads.

  81. I’m not arguing against ‘moderated’ blogs. But there’s a big difference between fair and judicious moderation and biased and unwarranted censorship. It’s Peter Hitchens’ blog, and he can use it to argue that the moon is made of cheese if he likes, but I have every right to expose the fact that it is hardly the bastion of free speech and honest debate Hitchens pretends it is.

    After a couple of months posting at his blog, Mr Hitchens didn’t like the fact I was persistent in my criticisms of his opinions and that my posts were generating a lot of responses, usually from disgruntled conservatives lol.

    Because he couldn’t be bothered to actually argue with me in the end, and instead of simply asking me to refrain from posting at his blog (a wish I would have respected at the time), he *covertly* prevented anyone from responding to my posts by telling the moderators to delete any responses which mentioned my name or referred to my contributions – I know this because of the messages I received from fellow contributors on Facebook. He did this, and this is the *important* bit, to give the (false) impression that he (Hitchens) had won the argument and that no-one was reading my contributions.

    Eventually Hitchens started deleting all of my contributions, again without publicly stating I was banned. It was only at that time that I started using pseudonyms (considering Hitchens‘ devious attempts to silence me my conscience was clear about this), at which point Hitchens was forced to fabricate a reason to *publicly* ban me – namely the BNP ’slur’, even though I had on many previous occasions drawn attention to the uncanny similarity between Hitchens’ articles and the BNP manifesto. This is a statement of fact as any study of the BNP manifesto will show. My comment that Hitchens’ “domestic articles incite BNP-esque xenophobia” was not even made at his blog, is just an opinion, and in no way suggested that Peter Hitchens *supports* the BNP as an organisation, either publicly or privately.

    The fact is many of Hitchens’ articles do have the potential to incite xenophobia – his reports from Kazakhstan, South Africa and Turkey are particularly negative and biased – and many right-wing readers may well have been drawn towards voting for the BNP since no other political party (not even UKIP) goes as far as Hitchens in opposing immigration and non-British cultural influence, and exaggerating and inventing cultural distinctions and ‘barriers‘. This is based on the clear fact that many BNP voters are not racist in the same way as the party’s ‘founding fathers‘. There’s half a million BNP voters for Pete’s sake, and they can’t all be jack-booted, goose-stepping, Sieg-heiling, swastika-adorned, toothbrush-moustachioed acolytes of the Ku Klux Klan. Many ordinary conservatives vote for the BNP because they don’t see any other party that opposes immigration and the influence of ‘foreign’ influence to the extent that Peter Hitchens does. Whatever Hitchens’ intentions, he must accept that his articles have the potential to influence how some people vote – which is kind of why biased political journalists do what they do, else why would he bother asking his readers *not* to vote Tory? But sometimes people will be influenced to vote in a way that was not the author’s intention.

    Hitchens ended his anti-Turkey rant with the words – “Among the bayonet-like minarets and helmet-like domes of ancient Istanbul an East wind is blowing, which I think will chill us all.” A statement clearly designed to incite xenophobia, specifically Islamophobia, complete with references to bayonets lol (the fact these words aren‘t his own makes no difference, he still used them), in the week that David Cameron called for Turkey to join the EU. And the ‘chill wind’ of militant Islam is the frosting on the cake, especially when one considers that Hitchens frequently argues that Christianity should be re-imposed on British society as a bulwark against creeping Islamification lol.

    Again, Hitchens latched onto my use of the word ‘incite’ as if I was suggesting his articles incite to violence. If I had meant that I would have said it… but I didn’t, and I intended the general dictionary meaning of the word incite, namely ‘to stir, encourage, or urge on’. And I said ‘BNP-esque’… which is not the same as saying he supports the BNP, hence the ‘esque’ on the end intended to mean that there is a *resemblance* between the BNP manifesto and many of Mr Hitchens’ articles, especially Hitchens’ attitude to ‘foreign’ cultures and immigration – the ‘proper’ conservative position is to question whether immigration is ever a good thing, according to Mr Hitchens.

    The simple fact that many BNP supporters agree with much of Hitchens’ articles supports what I have said about his articles, and helps to explain why Hitchens is particularly scathing in his attacks on Nick Griffin’s party (so as to try to distance himself from BNP policy).

    I only mention all of this here because it demonstrates the extraordinary lengths Hitchens will go to in an attempt to appear to win the debate. And it is these ‘methods’ Hitchens carries over into his horrendously biased and negative articles where Hitchens, like so many on the Right, decides what he wants to believe and then cherry-picks or ignores the evidence to suit his prejudice…

  82. BTW, this is someone else’s blog, so that’s all I’m going to say on here about my banning from the Peter Hitchens’ blog. If you have any comments or questions about that you’re welcome to pose them at the Peter Hitchens:Voice of Evil Group wall. However, I will just say that my criticism is not solely reserved for Peter Hitchens. I detest everything the Mail and its regular trad-con columnists stand for… it’s just Hitchens is the most intelligent, insidious and misguided of the lot – a very disturbing mixture of attributes lol…

  83. Final, final, final word. It is clear from all above that in this little world, objecting to dishonesty and distortion is ‘pedantry’, and twisting the words of others is excusable. No absolutes here, then. Truth here is a relative concept. That’s the choice of the host of this site and of his friends. Very well. The rest of us can now with confidence refer to this place in future as ‘The site that makes up quotes’.

  84. What a very odd man he is. He seems to think an argument can be won or lost by homing in on an unrelated perceived slight, complains about ad hominem attacks but repeatedly carries out the same and doesn’t even seem to recognise where people agree with him (my own quibble was with the his misrepresentation of the science rather than the conclusion he reached).

  85. ThisIsNotAPseudonym appears to have this right.

    Mr Hitchens completely derailed the debate with an irrelevant sub-argument, gleefully declared that he’d won the sub-argument and then left while bombastically declaring that the credibility of this entire site had been destroyed in the process.

    Laughable, really. Almost as laughable as the contention that ‘it is difficult to measure the effect of second-hand smoke’ logically leads to ‘second-hand smoke must therefore be safe’.

    I think ‘it is difficult to measure the effect of second-hand smoke’ pretty much sums up the state of current science.

    1. At the risk of returning this comment thread to the original point, a study has been conducted to examine the impacts of short term exposure to second-hand smoke: ‘Acute and Short-term Effects of Secondhand Smoke on Lung Function and Cytokine Production‘.

      The authors conclude:

      To the best of our knowledge, this is the first experiment to investigate the duration of the acute SHS effects on lung function and cytokine levels. Our results demonstrated that 1 hour of moderate SHS exposure generates significant decrements on lung function and marked increases in the vast majority of the cytokines investigated. More important, whereas most SHS-induced effects on lung function appear to recede within 60 minutes, inflammatory cytokines remain elevated for at least 3 hours after exposure.

      In the discussion they addressed claims that SHS was not harmful:

      [there exists a] pernicious myth that there is “no scientific basis for claims that brief, acute, transient exposure to secondhand smoke…represents any other significant acute…health hazard in nonsmokers” (6). Several studies referenced in the present article reject this argument. In fact, to our knowledge, all human exposure studies investigating the acute effects of SHS have reported significant detrimental results. With regard to the present experiment, it is important to note that the observed changes in lung function and inflammatory cytokines did not arise from an extreme and/or prolonged SHS exposure. The reported cotinine levels suggest a moderate and brief SHS exposure (34) confirming a successful simulation of a bar/restaurant smoking environment.

      Perhaps Peter would like to look into this study further to see whether he changes his position.

  86. This the funniest post on the Internet ever

    Peter Hitchens
    Posted March 21, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink
    Final, final, final word. It is clear from all above that in this little world, objecting to dishonesty and distortion is ‘pedantry’, and twisting the words of others is excusable. No absolutes here, then. Truth here is a relative concept. That’s the choice of the host of this site and of his friends. Very well. The rest of us can now with confidence refer to this place in future as ‘The site that makes up quotes’.

  87. “My point is made. We are not here dealing with serious critics, but with people who are ready to misrepresent their opponents, and to decorate their misrepresentations with abuse.

    And when found out, not only not prepared to withdraw and apologise, but bouncily confident that they are still in the right.

    That’s in itself pitiable and regrettable. But combined with this blog’s snooty, superior attitude towards conservative mid-market newspapers (and their readers) it is quite delicious.

    This particular vicar’s sermons on accuracy and so forth will be rather devalued in future, I fancy. Though his devoted, enraged partisans will presumably be as uninterested in truth and fairness as they have been throughout our little encounter, and stick by their preacher-man. Your world, and welcome to it.”

    There we have it – the perfect illustration of hypocrisy.

    The audacity of arguing about some peripheral point in order to then ignore every other criticism and claim you have therefore won the argument is breathtaking.

    Pathetic.

  88. “A 20% or 30% increase in a small risk seems to me to border on the statistically insignificant”

    I really hope that Peter Hitchens never discovers confidence intervals, he’d be declaring all scientific research invalid within minutes

  89. If second-hand cigarette smoke so easily caused disease then exhaust fumes from traffic would have finished us off long ago.

    Smoking is not good – but twisting the truth is cowardly. Amazing how people are happy to quote and believe Government and expert advice when it suits them but shout conspiracy when it disagrees.

    Shame their isn’t the same desire to prevent smoking or ingestion of other harmful substances.

  90. Peter Hitchens finds that the evidence is “thin” for SHS and therefore maintains a firm stance denying it’s effects on those in the presence of SHS.

    This is not surprising considering that this is a guy who tends to believe, wholeheartedly, in the merits of thin evidence as being the epitome of human intellect.

    Being a believer in god, it seems he takes the more fundamentalist approach the thinner the evidence is.

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