Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Where's Moffitt?

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:23 PM |  

Not since Van Helsing hung a clove of garlic around his neck has then been a more sure fire way to rid oneself of an unpleasant visitor. I refer of course to asking a direct question of Bob Moffitt of the American Lung Association of Minnesota.

In commenting on my column of last week about the negative effects of the Hennepin County smoking ban on the employees of Stasiu’s Bar -- the people the ban was suppose to protect -- as is his style, Bob totally ignored the economic and individual choice issues I raised. Instead he went straight to the health issue.

Okay. The health danger of secondhand smoke is certainly a proper topic to discuss. The problem is, Bob won’t discuss that issue either. He simply throws out statistics, and frankly, has yet to demonstrate that he has any understanding of what his numbers mean or how they were derived, let alone being able to scientifically defend them. For example, in his comment on my column, he writes --
The National Cancer Institute estimates that secondhand smoke causes 38,000 deaths a year, primarily from heart disease (but also lung cancer and SIDS).
Speed Gibson points out, 38,000 is a pretty specific number for an “estimate,” especially for something as difficult to define as a death caused by secondhand smoke. “That's a remarkably precise figure for something so difficult to measure,” Speed notes. “I find that validating the NCI's overall credibility may be as challenging."

Indeed, but certainly a professional director of communications should be capable of rising to that challenge. Having worn those shoes for a division of NCR, I know that had not ethics and professionalism demanded that I understood any numbers I made public, the legal department would have. So my question in the comment thread to Bob does not seem out of line -- unless beneficent public agencies are held to a lesser standard than evil corporations.

How do you arrive at the 38,000 number? Not the source, Bob, but the math behind it.

Let me make it easier for you, Bob. You don't even have to give me numbers. Just explain to me how a statistician would determine that number.

You know, if I asked you how a person would determine that a warehouse was 38,000 square feet, you could tell me he would multiply the length times the width. So I'm asking -- How does a person arrive at the figure 38,000 people dead from secondhand smoke?

However, that’s a direct question, so faster than you can say “sunrise,” Bob has gone underground, leaving the question unanswered.

This guy could answer it, and has, but when confronted by real science, Bob resorts, as he did, to an irrelevant (and unprofessional) quip.

Nonetheless, the question remains open. Anytime Bob cares to answer, this site will post his response for all to read and evaluate. Diverse opinions are welcome here -- only secondhand reasoning is prohibited.

Update: I left a "t" off the spelling of Bob Moffitt's name, which he pointed out to me in a comment in which he left out the defense of his 38,000 deaths number. I have corrected the spelling. Bob . . . .