Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Washington Post's Gift to Tobacco Lobbyist: Free Space, Shielded Identity

The Washington Post publishes a guest editorial today from a man named Gio Batta Gori titled "The Bogus 'Science' of Secondhand Smoke" (bolding added by me):

It has been fashionable to ignore the weakness of "the science" on secondhand smoke, perhaps in the belief that claiming "the science is settled" will lead to policies and public attitudes that will reduce the prevalence of smoking. But such a Faustian bargain is an ominous precedent in public health and political ethics. Consider how minimally such policies as smoking bans in bars and restaurants really reduce the prevalence of smoking, and yet how odious and socially unfair such prohibitions are.

By any sensible account, the anachronism of tobacco use should eventually vanish in an advancing civilization. Why must we promote this process under the tyranny of deception?

Here's how the Post identified him:

Gio Batta Gori, an epidemiologist and toxicologists, is a fellow of the Health Policy Center in Bethesda. He is a former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, and he received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts to define less hazardous cigarettes.
Here's what they left out, courtesy SourceWatch:

In 1980 Gori became Vice President of the Franklin Institute Policy Analysis Center (FIPAC), a consulting firm funded initially by a $400,000 grant from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W). [2] Following its initial formation, FIPAC continued to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding annually from B&W. [3][4]. [5] Gori worked on R&D projects for B&W, such as analysis of the sensory perception of smoke and how to reduce the amount of tobacco in cigarettes. By 1989, Gori was a full time consultant on environmental tobacco smoke issue for the Tobacco Institute in the Institute's ETS/IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) Consultants Project. [6] In May 1993, Gori entered an exclusive consulting arrangement with B&W, reaping pay at the rate of $200/hour an day to $1,000/day for attending conferences. [7]

Activities in which Gori engaged on behalf of the tobacco industry included attending conferences, writing and publishing books and papers, and lobbying.
Are Gori's links to the tobacco industry new or obscure? Nope. They were detailed as far back as this 1978 TIME magazine article.

Deception, huh? Exactly who is doing the deceiving? Seems like it's the Post and Gori.

As for his arguments, they match exactly the strategy Jonathan Chait recently laid out in The New Republic when conservatives try to attack long-agreed-upon science -- "treat the question as a matter of dispute rather than a settled fact":

[W]hether the missing data would make inequality look worse or better is really beside the point. Reynolds's role is merely to point out that the data is imperfect. The skeptic challenging the expert consensus must be fluent enough in the language of the experts to nibble away at their data. (The evolution skeptic can find holes in the fossil record; the global-warming skeptic can find periods of global cooling.) But he need not--indeed, he must not--be fluent enough to assimilate all the data himself into a coherent alternative explanation. His point is that the truth is unknowable.
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