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Chapman’s News & Ideas From the Folks Who Brought You Camels and Lucky Strike: “Consensus”

camels_doctors_whiteshirtSpend some time with old Time Magazines or Look circa 1950 and you’ll find ad after ad touting the doctors who smoke Camels or Lucky Strike. The PR agencies surveyed the doctors, sometimes counting hundreds of thousands of them, then advised readers that such and such brand was “not irritating on the throat”, was “soothing” and other euphemisms for scientific approval of what turned out to be a deadly product.

Most doctors smoked in those days. There was a kind of consensus that smoking was okay, especially if you bought a particular brand, one with filters, perhaps. That the incidence of lung and throat cancer was rocketing up didn’t register fully on medical practitioners for a long while. The connection with heart disease also was missed.

All those doctors testifying on behalf of cigarettes didn’t matter to the truth, did it?

The cigarette makers did not exactly announce a scientific consensus, but they did imply it.

History tells repeatedly of scientific consensus or implications of same that were driven by self-interest, expedience, group-think or just plain ignorance. Today, as SUNY neuroscientist and brain surgeon Michael Egnor notes, the consensus is for man-made global warming (aka, climate change), Darwinian evolution and whatever the latest fad headline attests that “Scientists Say.” In the case of forensic science and the FBI, it has turned into a scandal.

But such is the prestige of scientists that you will hunt hard for universities that tolerate contrarian views on politically delicate science issues, or will even allow debate. But the careful reader can find out for himself. For example, here. And here. and here. And here.

Figuratively speaking, put out that cigarette.