Turning Epidemiology into Lysenko Pseudoscience


In recent years there has been a very disturbing trend whereby the results of weak epidemiologic associations have been declared to be causal relationships and then used to establish public policy and regulations that are far more restrictive than is justified by the actual epidemiologic evidence. This is particularly true in the area of passive smoking epidemiology in the United States. I have addressed important aspects of the technical details of this subject in my Symposium and Research Defense. However, because the subject is so complex I am also presenting it here in the form of a satire. I believe that the use of satire helps in the overall understanding of the technical details and the politics of this situation.

Before beginning my satire, I would like to recall a wonderful book that I first read fifty years ago about a kid named “Huck” and his friend named “Jim” floating around on the Mississippi River. Because of its profound insights into human nature, I now understand why this satirical story by Mark Twain is often considered to be “The Great American Novel.” Of particular relevance to the current passive smoking situation is the story about how the “duke” and the “king” defrauded the Wilkes family. The fraud that these two con men committed was so despicable that Huck said “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.”

My satirical tale involves the fraud being committed on the American people by a fictitious individual who is nominally at the top of the profession of epidemiology. This powerful epidemiologist has seriously damaged the credibility of epidemiology as a scientific endeavor. He has done this damage by overstating the strength of weak associations and turning them into “causal” relationships, without satisfying the normal criteria required for establishment of a causal epidemiologic relationship. He has contributed substantially to the incessant focus on the numerous alleged dangers of passive smoking, which in turn has taken the focus off the very large and real dangers of active smoking. Furthermore, this state of affairs is inhibiting new epidemiologic research into a more complete understanding of the causes of major tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer and coronary heart disease. In order to illustrate the manipulation that is going, please listen to the following satirical lecture by Dr. John Mike Lysenko entitled “Turning Epidemiology into Lysenko Pseudoscience.”

John Mike Lysenko, M.D., M.S., is the Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology and Public Policy at the Joseph Stahl Global Ministry of Truth of the Jon Hopscotch University located in BigBro City, Oceania. Dr. Lysenko, affectionately known as J.M., is the son of Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko, affectionately known as T.D., who was the former President of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the Soviet Union.

After you have listened to Dr. Lysenko’s excellent and informative 25 minute lecture, you need to learn all you can about T.D., who trained his son very well. For instance, to arrive at his conclusions, J.M. has selectively used evidence to support his positions, and ignored contrary evidence, just like T.D. In his major reports, J.D. has gotten the backing of all the major government agencies, just like T.D. To discredit his critics, J.M. has systematically linked them to “stakeholder” interests. For instance, listen to his sarcastic remarks about a “useful critic” with a funny name. J.M. considers that this man was a critic only because of his “stakeholder” interest and not because he has a different, but perfectly valid, interpretation of the scientific evidence. And J.M. never mentions that this critic has an impressive record of published epidemiologic research and is a senior professor of epidemiology at a major university. J.M. has discredited other critics, like myself, by linking them to the “tobacco industry,” as if that fact alone discredits everthing they say or publish.

However, J.M. never reveals his own hypocrisy and his conflict of interest regarding funding. For instance, in major reports he has not disclosed the substantial support that he has received from an “Institute” that is directly funded by the tobacco industry as the result of a law suit. The mission of this “Institute” is not to conduct objective research on the relationship between passive smoking and diseases, but to “reduce” diseases assumed to be “caused” by passive smoking. So one wonders how objective J.M. can really be on the health effects of passive smoking.

By conducting transparent epidemiologic research of the highest quality, the Scientific Integrity Institute is combating the efforts of powerful epidemiologists like J.M. to turn epidemiology into the kind of pseudoscience, espoused and practiced by T.D. More about pseudoscience and T.D. can be learned by reading an incredible lecture and a great commentary by Michael Crichton, M.D.

Important Disclaimer: This entire lecture is intended to be a satire and any connection of this satire to a real individual, living or deceased, is purely coincidental.

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