Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ahhhh! They's Brainwashin' Me!!

Arg. There was a study the other day which is sure to feed the paranoia of our slower, fringier friends. See, the study claims that watching movies makes you liberal. The fact the study is nonsense probably won’t stop those people from citing to it either.

Let's go through this in parts, shall we?

First, ignore the study... it's garbage. The study was conducted by a Todd Adkins of the University of Notre Dame and it was published in the Social Science Quarterly. For those of you who need a reminder, "social science" is not science, it is opinion looking for support. And this is typical of the kind of junk science you find being produced by social "scientists."

What Adkins did was quiz 268 college students about their political views. Then he showed them The Rainmaker and As Good As It Gets. Afterwards, he quizzed them again about their political views. Lo and behold, he found that the students views drifted leftward slightly! Oh my! Hence, the headlines scream: "MOVIES MAKE YOU LIBERAL!" But here are the problems:
(1) The study size is too small to be meaningful.

(2) The sample group is too homogenous (college students).

(3) The test lacks controls. For example, there’s no control group who didn’t watch the films. There weren’t other groups who watched other films. There’s no group who heard a speech instead. Etc. This doesn’t pass the laugh test.

(4) Even if these results were valid, there was zero attempt made to determine if this supposed change in attitude lasted even as long as the next morning.
It's junk.

And if you want proof of this, use your brain. Since the 1960s, Hollywood has put out nothing but liberals films. If there was any truth to this study, then the public's attitudes would have shifted over to liberalism. Yet, liberalism remains a disgraced word in this country... a word that even liberals try to run from. Moreover, in poll after poll on almost every issue, the public's attitudes on individual issues remains conservative in the 60% range. If the conclusions of this study were real, then none of that would be true. If this study were accurate, the public would be overwhelmingly liberal, not overwhelmingly conservative.

What Adkins has stumbled upon is simply the effect that when a person is presented with an advocacy piece, some of them will be swayed by the argument presented. There's no mystery here and this is nothing unusual. When people see a film, it’s the same thing as sitting through a trial summation, a high school debate, or reading a blog post, only more entertaining; they are presented with a set of facts and arguments that make a particular point. If the argument is sufficiently compelling, then people’s views on a particular issue might change. But it’s not because they’ve been brainwashed, it’s because they’ve been presented with an argument they accept on an issue they hadn't thought through completely. There's no ability here to change the way a person thinks or to make them believe something they don't believe, i.e. to brainwash them.

For this study to prove what the headline claims, it would need to show that these films inject a belief that is incongruous with the person's other beliefs. It would also need to show that this change was a lasting one. As any attorney can tell you, it’s easy to sway people for the moment with a one-sided, un-refuted argument, even if it's wrong, but that swaying reverses itself very quickly once the person gets away from the person pushing the argument.

Ultimately, what this tells us is not that “films make you liberal,” but that liberal films are out there trying to sway people and some people get swayed. If conservatives are smart, they will get back into the culture game and make films that advocate their own views. You won't be able to make anyone believe something they don't believe, but you will be able to wake people up to things they do believe but don't fully understand yet.

That’s it... no need for tinfoil hats.


Tennessee Jed said...

yes, it is laughable. I'd like to see conservatives make more films, but I have a nagging suspicion that being open about one's political views in Hollywood is a good way to stall one's career. That is anecdotal, but would not surprise me.

AndrewPrice said...

Check this out Jed! This is my new 24/7 comment response plan! ;-)

I think what this "study" really does is remind us of the the reason why conservatives need to be making films. As I've pointed out a couple times, a film can easily reach 20 million people and then live on in the culture over and over. A political essay reaches under 100,000 and is forgotten before it's finished.

As for conservatives in Hollywood, they do exist and they can get their way, but its obviously easier for liberals. The key is coming up with quality product. Then it doesn't matter what your ideology is so long as you are making them money.

shawn said...

After a single movie, temporary effect. Decades long indoctrination from film and television: more likely.

Several items that immediately come to mind: single motherhood, global warming, homosexuality, evil corporations, gender equality, smoking, casual sex.

Hollywood is a great platform for getting a message out, and for the most part, it is the liberal message.

tryanmax said...

The biggest obstacle conservatives face in Hollywood is themselves. Good storytelling practically dictates that the message be conservative no matter what. Even a mediocre story is going to lean right, and a liberal indoctrination-piece comes off as obvious. Conservative films that aren't trying to push an agenda should naturally rise to the top.

The problem that Hollywood conservatives have is this need to be overt about it and produce conservative indoctrination-pieces, which are just as awful as the liberal ones. Worse, conservative indoctrination-pieces are not often all that conservative. Instead they tend to push some dogmatic notion that has somehow fallen to the right.

Anthony said...


I agree. Conservative directors (outside of some Christian conservatives) tend to want to be Michael Moore rather than Steven Spielberg.

On a related note, outside of Christian conservative circles there doesn't seem to be much of an appetite for conservative movies in non-election years (unless it was very, very, very cheap Copperhead lost money).

Of course that raises the question of what is a conservative movie...

Individualist said...

Oddly enough I just did a study with five people were I showed them those films "the Rainmaker" and "As Good as it Gets" back to back and have come to the conclusion that liberal films can cure insomnia.

Should I send my study results to Social Sciences Quarterly!

tryanmax said...

Of course that raises the question of what is a conservative movie...

Good question. I kind of alluded to an answer saying that good storytelling compels a conservative message. But in the political sense, I don't know. Conservatives suffer from a "head in the sand" mentality where simply addressing a subject is frowned upon. Can't talk about teen pregnancy because that "normalizes" it.

And there's the matter of right-wing dogma that's been branded as conservative. "Don't shit where you live" is about as basic a conservative tenet as I can think of, yet the right has not only ceded the entire environmental debate, they basically advocate for just the opposite of that maxim. I don't think anyone would be dumb enough to make a pro-pollution film (at least no one has yet). But even though there is nothing un-conservative about conservation (hint, they share a root), a film about that would automatically be branded "environmentalist" and attacked by the right, even if it was written, directed, produced, and starring Gary Senise and The Other Baldwin Brother (with special appearance by Kelsey Grammer).

Kit said...

I think everyone here is hitting on a problem, Conservatives are doing exactly what Christians did in the 1990s and early-00s: Making only niche movies that force a story its characters to conform to an intended message. Resulting in a bad story with uninteresting characters.

I am starting to understand why Tolkien hated allegory.

AndrewPrice said...

I'll comment soon. Sorry, busy day has kept me away from computer.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think you're onto something. I seem to remember falling asleep too watching those films! LOL! :D

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and Anthony, That is the problem. When conservatives finally get to a place that they can make films they seem to want to be Micheal Moore, not Steven Spielberg. Well, nobody wants a politicized film, so their films fail.

But look at the guys who get it, like Tom Clancy. He tells stories first, stories that are heavily imbued with conservative ideas but don't advertise themselves as conservative. That's the way to go.

As an aside, I think I'm going to put out my film book in the next week or so. That might be interesting to people.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, My book outlines what would be a conservative film... but it talks about actual conservatism, not the knee-jerk respons-ism that conservatives has become. Conservatism is not opposition to liberalism, it actually is a set of ideas and beliefs that result in a particular worldview.

Perhaps if conservatives got back into the culture game they would be more like to see that because they would actually need to be for something rather than just against other things.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, If long term indoctrination worked, Americans would be liberal, but they aren't. They remain consistently conservative in principle and on most issues. That wouldn't be true if you could change minds through decades long indoctrination.

The problem with the specific issues you identify are twofold:

(1) Hollywood has just been a bandwagon rider on those issues, i.e. it did not change minds, it just reflect the change.

Look at casual sex. Hollywood was still operating under the Hays Code when that hit the culture and it peaked (1970s) long before Hollywood did movies about it.

As for evil corporations, people have hated Big Corporations since before there was a Hollywood. In fact, populism was strongest in the 1890 with trust busters and again in the 1920s with true populists... back when Hollywood was still a novelty. And it's not like Big Corporations have done much to endear themselves to the public. To the contrary, most have drifted into crony-socialism and use the government to force the public to support them now. Thus, there is no need to brainwash people to make them anti-corporate. We should not confuse an earned disdain for brainwashing.

Also, look at global warming. That's not something Hollywood invented. That's something that's been pushed by a huge chunk of the scientific community since the late 1970s. Hollywood didn't pick it up until the 1990s. By that point, it was a well-established belief with government, treaties, science and the UN all already going all out to fight it. Again, Hollywood took something that was already established in the culture and ran with it... it didn't cause the change.

Moreover, it's not like they actually succeeded. Sure, a majority of people claim to believe in it, but almost no one has been willing to put their money where their beliefs supposedly lie and change their lives. So do they really believe or do they just say they do about an issue they don't care about?


AndrewPrice said...


(2) On some of those issues, conservatives have simply been wrong. Smoking is the perfect example. First of all, there is nothing inherently conservative about smoking and it's ironic at best that an ideology that currently claims it has the right to dictate people's sexual behavior should claim that there is an unfettered right to blow smoke in public.

Smoking is not an issue of principle, it's a question of competing rights -- those who want to smoke versus those who find smoking to be an invasion of their rights through stinking hotel rooms, smoke clouds in restaurants and before buildings, and cigarette butts all over the place. In any fight between two co-equal but conflicting rights, the winner will almost always be the majority, and the majority is nonsmokers, and they don't like the invasion of their rights by smokers. Add in the known health risks too and this issue moves well beyond just the unpleasantness for the majority. This isn't about brainwashing, it's about experience.

Moreover, conservatives have bad allies and mishandled the issue. The cigarette industry lied through its teeth about the safety of cigarettes for decades (and continues to do so), including suppressing evidence of health risks. Then these same people got caught doing nasty, nasty things in litigation -- the kinds of things conservatives normally hate lawyer for. That makes the cigarette companies villains who have worked hard to mislead the public and abuse the legal system. People like that tend to lose in America. No one needs Hollywood films to sway them in those circumstances.

Then, making it even worse, conservatives continued to take an all or nothing approach... "any regulation is communism!" In doing so, they effectively took themselves out of the debate. Thus, for thirty years now, there has been no counterargument of any merit made to the anti-smoking crowd and no offer of compromise that could satisfy both sides. That made the end result obvious... no matter what Hollywood did.

Or consider the gay issue. Conservatives lost that one because gays made the argument about individual freedom, which is always a winner with the public, while conservatives countered by demanding conformance to a harsh version of Christian fundamentalism. That's a no brainer for the public no matter what Hollywood says. Moreover, the victories the gays have had were legal first and then public attitudes shifted after they saw that nothing the fundamentalists predicted would happen did happen. By the time Hollywood got involved in the issue, the public's mind was already changing rapidly. In fact, until very recently, the standard Hollywood portrayal of gay character was usually a serial killer -- a point that has long infuriated gays. This was the case even as the public's attitudes began to shift. So Hollywood not only didn't help the cause, they would have hindered it if this study was true.

As for gender equality, first I absolutely reject the idea that gender equality is not a conservative idea. Outside of Rick Santorum, I don't know anyone who thinks that laws should discriminate against women or that women should be denied equal opportunity. Equality of result is a different issue. That's something feminists want, but even liberals don't buy into that one and Hollywood films haven't helped them. If anything, the needle is moving backwards on that one despite Hollywood's best efforts.

Kit said...


One correction: The Hays Code ended in 1968.

AndrewPrice said...

And let me re-iterate to everyone. Whether you think the study proves what it claims or not, the answer in either case is to get back into Hollywood and start turning out conservative-based stories. There is no other answer.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, The "casual sex movement" (for lack of a better descriptor) started in the early 1960s if not the late 1950s and really hit big with the hippie movement which peaked in the mid-1960s and then itself peaked with the swingers of the 1970s.

Though, truthfully, "casual sex" has been around since man fell out of the trees. Most of history is full of it. If we're being honest, it was only briefly reined in during the 1940s and 1950s and a few other times.

Kit said...



Kit said...

I agree on your long post. My "agree" was posted before your comments re casual sex.

Kit said...

Before I saw.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Kit.

The casual sex issue is interesting actually because it kind of shows that no matter what kind of government or moral code was imposed, people kept right on doing what they were doing. It's just a question of how openly they did it.

AndrewPrice said...

This isn't all that related, but it's interesting. To give you a sense of the cultural juggernaut that is the NFL, consider this:

1. 34 of the top 35 rated television shows last year were NFL games. The one exception, at No. 22, was NBC's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

2. 205 million people watched at least one NFL game. That's 70% of the population.

If you want to reach the public, go where the public is...

Kit said...

"Though, truthfully, "casual sex" has been around since man fell out of the trees. Most of history is full of it."

That is true.

tryanmax said...

So you're saying it's the increasingly liberal Thanksgiving Day Parade that has ruined America. I get it now.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! You broke the code! Actually, this year I watched both the Macy's Parade and the Rose Bowl Parade because I've never done that. I found the Macy's Parade to be uninteresting, but the Rose Bowl Parade to be really cool. There's much more creativity and energy in the Rose Bowl Parade. It was neat too to see all the non-Americans who paid their own way to participate. I think it still speaks volumes that so many people in the rest of the world want to come participate in our cultural traditions. You just don't see that in the rest of the world.

tryanmax said...

Okay, but in a few years when crazy people with tricorn hats start belligerently declaring that the Rose Bowl Parade is only parade for "real" Americans, just remember that it all started with that comment.

AndrewPrice said...

I doubt it. Parades prime people for socialism, every nutjob blogger on the right knows that. So real Americans shield their eyes when a parade passes their bunkers.

Hmm, on the other hand, think of how many poor people we could have signed up for Obamacare for the cost of one of those floats. Yeah, that's a good point. Every nutjob blogger on the left knows that floats prime people for capitalist oppression by the 1%. Hence, true Americans set fire to floats when they get the chance.

We should do a crazy week. It would be fun! :D

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't have much to add to this topic that hasn't been said before.

But Andrew, didn't you know Hollywood invented every bad thing that has ever happened? That's what folks on the religious right say. Adam and Eve ate the apple because they saw it in a movie!


As for conservatives, they can't have it both ways. On one hand, it ALL matters and we need to scrutinize every line of dialogue we write to make sure it's rah-rah pro-American, etc.

Or NONE of it matters ("Acting? I can do that!") and this is all moot.

The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

(And every time the guy who runs Hot Air does a positive review of an R-rated movie, there's always some nut who chimes in with "But they use the F-word! You obviously didn't bring God into the theater with you!" I'm not joking - I read that once.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, To be fair, you're mixing and matching different people to create a single person. If we exclude the true freaks, then the conservative complaints about Hollywood are basically (1) Hollywood turns out liberal films/shows, (2) they turn out anti-American/anti-conservative films/shows, and (3) they are brainwashing the public into voting for leftists.

The first two are legitimate, the third is not. This study is related to the third part, and the point to the article is that the study is wrong, i.e. there is no brainwashing ability. And the solution to the first two is to get out there and make films ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I know... it was kind of a random assemblage of thoughts. :-)

I suppose the point I was trying (in vain!) to get to was that certain folks on the FRINGE... it's like they won't let conservatives make films. They'll never be pure enough. And conservative filmmakers, actors, etc. are still people. Some folks seem to think that, if an actor is conservative, it means they're a saint in real life. I expect a certain amount of adulation, but people are people, and showbiz is showbiz.

And every time a conservative goes off the reservation, there's always someone who asks, "How could you like that?!" Even Ben Shapiro once said he liked Arrested Development and some commenters called him out for being... "inconsistent."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That is definitely a problem, but it's a small problem. For while those people bitch and moan if conservatives do anything other than a G rated religious film, people like that aren't really relevant to the world. They are small in number, smaller in influence, they aren't consumers, and no one really takes them seriously.

The bigger problem is that conservatives don't support conservatives in the arts.

darski said...

My first thought when I read the suggestion that we need Conservative films was Andrew's book: The Politics of Star Trek. He demonstrated that the conservative attitudes can play through very entertaining fare. That is the effect that we need. The correct (dare I say "right") human processes should just move the story along.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, Exactly! That is exactly the kind of conservative story telling we need. Going to Hollywood to make "The Great Conservative Film" will never work because people will tune it out. But making a great science fiction/fantasy/crime/drama series that imparts conservative principles week after week without people even realizing it would be really powerful. Ditto on making films around conservatives ideas like Dirty Harry.

Story first... relying on the conservative world view.

shawn said...

I'm sorry Andrew, I'm conservative and would like to believe that America is a conservative nation, but I don't believe we are a majority anymore. Obama's re-election amid all the various scandals and very poor economy tells me otherwise. I had a teacher in High School explain that politics are a pendulum, that it swing in one direction and then people will say "Yuck enough of that" and then it will swing back in the other direction. So we will see if it starts to head back in the other direction.

I would like to say that I don't think that Hollywood has the power to brainwash anyone, but I do think that it does have the power to help shape opinion, especially amongst the young and the uniformed.

I'll grant that Hollywood is a bandwagon organization, ie that there were political movements in motion before Hollywood started rooting for one side or the other, but I disagree that it didn't help to shape opinions, especially in the young who consume a lot of television and movies. Of course, the young also have their opinions shaped by their teachers (which is another field that conservatives are woefully under-represented in) who are authority figures that are supposed to be relative experts in their fields. So when a chemistry, physics or biology teacher tells you that global warming is real, you would tend to accept it as fact.

Casual sex: I'll grant that people have always wanted sex, and I heck I grew up during the "jiggle tv" years of the 70s, but I don't remember teen pregnancy being so rampant as it is today. And not only rampant, but any sort of stigma being almost eliminated. My oldest is a teacher and reports that about half of her female high school students are currently pregnant.

Big Corporations: You make a valid point about crony-socialism, and I agree that big business has done much to tarnish it's own image. It just seems to me we have gone from the idea that it might be one or two bad eggs in the company committing malfeasance, to the whole thing's rotten.

Global Warming: I recently picked up a copy of In Search Of which was narrated by Leonard Nimoy and I remember watching so of as a child. One of the episodes in the first season was about the possible on coming Ice Age. And then of course there was the time magazine article from the same time claiming the Earth was cooling. I have no memory of global warming in the news from the 80's. It wasn't until the 90s that it became an issue that I was aware of it. This is not to say there wasn't a environmental movement, I do remember watching news of acid rain and other pollution stories during the 80s, but no-one was talking about global warming that I was aware of. You can certainly make the case that the global warming crew grew out of the environmental movement.

I can't believe you are going to make me try and defend smoking. Now, as a nurse and a non-smoker, let me say that I wouldn't recommend that anyone smoke, it's a nasty and unhealthy habit. Personally, once I got away from friends that smoke, I became more aware of the odor of smokers. That said, I don't agree with outright universal bans. If you run a bar or a restaurant and you are fine with having smokers for customers, then who are non-smokers to tell that you can't allow them to smoke?

to be continued.

shawn said...


As to the cigarette industry lying- my understanding is that they lied about increasing nicotine levels to make them more addictive and the toxic effects of said nicotine. No defense here. They were wrong to do it and needed to be punished. I will say however, that for as long as I can remember (back to 71) cigarette packs have always had a warning on them. So if you started smoking back in the good old days when "Lucky Strikes means fine tobacco" ruled the day and they had commercials about the wonderful health benefits- yeah, big tobacco owes you some money. Once they put the warning on the label: sorry you should have known better.

Gays: I'm a live and let live sort of fellow. Consenting adults and all that. But from my understanding they make up anywhere between 1 to 5% of the population, so I would say that it is an aberration. Making the individual freedom case was certainly they way to go with me. I feel the trend with the shows over the last 2 decades is to show them as normal people, ie the normalization of their behavior. Now, if the majority of shows or movies showed the more extreme elements of gay behavior such as shown on (it shows public nudity and sex in the many gay pride parades in San Francisco), I think people would be less sympathetic.

Gender equality: I agree that conservatives should own this issue. I'm a big fan of a color blind and gender blind society and believe the best person for the job should get the job. It was liberals that brought us affirmative action and quotas, both of which I despise. Like you said, equal opportunity. Liberals on the other hand want equal results. Recently the U.S. Marines lowered their physical requirements to allow females into combat roles. It makes me wonder about the effect of having lots of women kicking ass in movies and tv.

So I'll end with saying that no, Hollywood can't brainwash you, but I do think that it is a great platform to make your case for whatever issue you want. And when one side gets more time to make it's case, then I think that it tends to influence more people to it's side.

Michael Crichton talked about an effect (the name of which I can't remember) but essentially it was this: if you read a newspaper article or watch a news report or show about a topic you are intimately familiar with, then you will see how wildly wrong the news people or show writer's are on the topic, but then you go onto the next story, a topic you aren't familiar with, and assume that what they report is correct. You have said watching legal thrillers and tv procedurals about the legal profession make you roll your eyes, the wife and eye are the same when it comes to medical shows. I believe that liberals take advantage of this effect.

I also agree that should conservatives gain some traction in Hollywood, that they should tell interesting stories first, and not try to bludgeon conservative values.

shawn said...

Found the name of the effect Crichton was talking about it is called Gell-Mann amnesia.

Anthony said...

Shawn said:

Casual sex: I'll grant that people have always wanted sex, and I heck I grew up during the "jiggle tv" years of the 70s, but I don't remember teen pregnancy being so rampant as it is today. And not only rampant, but any sort of stigma being almost eliminated. My oldest is a teacher and reports that about half of her female high school students are currently pregnant.

Respectfully, your claims about modern teen pregnancy aren't true.
Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for many years now (its not a popular topic because it doesn't fit with the sky is falling song/culture is collapsing song many love to sing).

I've linked to three articles below, two from the liberal sources that tend to cover such things, one from the National Review agreeing with the data but disagreeing with the conclusion.

Fertility rates in the United States are continuing their decades-long decline, due in large part to a steep slide in teenage pregnancies down to historic lows, according to a new government report released Thursday.

While the decelerating decline in birth rates since 2009 reflects the easing of the recession’s impact, the striking drop in teenage pregnancies shows little sign of abating. The teen pregnancy rate in 2009, of about 38 per thousand girls, was 39 percent lower than the 1991 peak of 62. Just four years later, in 2012, it reached a record low of about 29.

Sally Curtin, one of the report’s authors, said the historic drop is being driven by a long, downward trend of fewer teenagers having sex, and among those who do, a sharp increase in their use of contraceptives.


•The majority of sexually experienced teens (78% of females and 85% of males) used contraceptives the first time they had sex.[4]

•The use of contraceptives during first sex by females aged 15–19 has increased, from 48% in 1982 to 78% in 2006–2010.[4]

•Adolescents who have sex at age 14 or younger are less likely than older teens to have used a method at first sex and take longer to begin using contraceptives.[1]

•The condom is the most common contraceptive method used at first intercourse; 68% of females and 80% of males use it the first time they have sex. [4]

• Contraceptive use at first sex has increased over time. Particularly large increases in condom use at first sex occurred partially in response to the AIDS epidemic.

Overall, there has been a broad downward trend in both teen pregnancies and teen abortions during the past 30 years. In fact, the minor abortion rate has actually fallen faster than the adult abortion rate during this time span. There are many reasons for this. However, there are CDC studies which show that minors have become less likely to engage in sexual activity. Furthermore, there are peer-reviewed studies which show that reductions in teen sexual activity has played a role in the teen pregnancy decline. Unfortunately, such research typically receives scant attention from the mainstream media.


Individualist said...


The problem with the smoking legislation is that it has ceased to be about protecting the rights of others and has become a "we shall punish thou for thy bad behavior".

No one really tried to stop smoking bans on planes or non smoking sections in restaurants although many grumbled that complying with the rules were a pain in the rear.

But now one is banned from walking outside and smoking even if you walk away from everyone else.

The electronic cigarettes that release only water vapor are being talked about being banned in CA. some states want to ban smoking in the home.

Medical claims as to the damage of second hand smoke are specious at best.

As to the Cigarette company's paying their fair share, they are and have been. Cigarettes are highly tax to the point that you pay more tax to the government than you do to the Cigarette company for the product. Yet on top of that states still sued for billions for medical expenses. And they still want to sue.

The whole Antismoking crowd has devolved into a group of activists trying to stop all smoking by any means they can and a group of lawyers and government politicians trying to milk a cash cow for every dime they can.

No matter where we fall on the debate the current response right now is unethical. If smoking is as bad as they state the government should illegalize it. If not then let people smoke and quit pulling stunts meant to simply harass people. Some government regulation may not be communism but government regulation over All things is fascism. Problem is there is never a backtracking of the law. The activist side for regulation never thinks they have gone far enough.

I don't smoke and I find these Truth commercials to be offensive. It is just snarky insults masked as a public service message, Smoking executives lied in the 1960's I get it but I was not even born until half that decade was over. No one with a brain does not understand smoking will harm you. Heck the first time you try a cig you'll cough your lungs out.

But you have the surgeon's general label, you tax it to a point you make money off of it even considering hospital bills 30 years down the road. And people have to walk outside to smoke. Why are millions spent in advertising and lobbying congress for more changes. This is the problem. We are done with the issue but the corporatists running Washington need it to make money.

tryanmax said...

No stigma against teen pregnancy!? You have got to be kidding! Have you seen MTV's 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom (the two preeminent shows on the topic)? Those shows are horror-stories. The point of such reality shows is to mock the stars and make them look like horrible people. (In the case of Farrah Abraham, appearances are spot on. Just more proof that nothing good comes out of Council Bluffs.) Anyone who thinks such shows are glamorizing the situation has severely missed the point.

Which leads me to another thought... (cont'd)

tryanmax said...

If there is one defining facet of the conservative attitude toward media, I believe it is this: the belief that, just because something is presented via media--especially film and TV--i t is therefore glamorized. This belief is neither correct nor incorrect, but it must be understood through the framework provided by Marshall McLuhan when he famously asserted "the medium is the message."

It needs be stressed that McLuhan's statement is to be understood paradigmatically more than directly. As he himself elaborated, "the content of any medium is always another medium." Thus, the delivery system conveys a message distinct from the message it delivers, but also about that message. A shiny billboard near the expressway says something different about the advertiser than a rusty, tattered sign on the edge of town.

Anything that is new is novel, and that which is novel is glamorous. Thus, anything conveyed by a new and novel medium inherits some of that glamor. There was a time when anything conveyed on the big screen garnered much attention. These were the days of news reels, experimental animation, comedic sketches and all-day matinees, as well as feature length films. But now we only head to theaters for the ultimate item on that list. Again, when television was new, almost anything broadcast had an audience, from highly-polished works of drama to rinky-dink local talk-shows that would embarrass modern public-access networks. Yes, one technology supplants the last, but regardless, novelty fades.

How does this reflect on the conservative attitude that any message mediated is glamorous? It means that such an attitude is erroneously static. Certainly a show about unwed teen mothers in the 1960s would have had the effect of glamorizing the situation--even if it strives to convey the opposite--as television itself was quite a glamorous thing at the time. But 50 years later, TV is no longer novel and we are used to all manner of messages through it. Yes, TV still imposes a message on whatever program is shown, mainly one of authority--this show is somehow worthwhile--but the glamor is largely gone. (There are, of course, other mediums at play. TV is a medium of mediums, endlessly parse-able. The internet more so.)

Still, this assumption that media = glamor has some interesting effects. For one, because this belief is held by conservatives, to some extent it becomes true for conservatives (but not the rest of the population). This makes them oddly out of synch. Thus, you find large numbers tuning into Duck Dynasty to sincerely enjoy and relate to the characters rather than to point and laugh at them as the producers most probably intended. You also have them snubbing things that are not meant to be glamorous b/c they hold the (otherwise outmoded) belief that everything on TV or film should be glamorous in some way.

The most interesting--and damaging--effect ties back to my main point. By not "getting it" conservatives falsely see themselves as the only ones who do "get it." They interpret the lack of outrage at what outrages them not as a difference of understanding or taste but as a sign that the rest have been duped, "brainwashed" as it were.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I totally agree with this:

So I'll end with saying that no, Hollywood can't brainwash you, but I do think that it is a great platform to make your case for whatever issue you want. And when one side gets more time to make it's case, then I think that it tends to influence more people to it's side.

That's why I think it's absolutely essential that conservatives get back into the culture business and put out films and television shows that show our point of view and counter the monolithic liberal point of view.

I'll have a longer response a little later... the day job is keeping me busy.

shawn said...

It is good to hear that my oldest daughter's experiences as a high school teacher are not the norm for the nation.

Tyranmax- I have heard of both shows, but not seen any of the episodes, so I can't judge the content of the shows. Is teen pregnancy shown as something that is not desirable? Or is that the teen parents are major malfunctions?

My oldest daughter has been a teacher for the last decade, she has taught in fairly large cities: Bryan/College Station and Wichita Falls. She tells me that she has seen an increase in the number of pregnant teens in her class rooms over the last decade and that there is no stigma attached- that it is considered an everyday experience by their classmates. When I was a student in high school in the 80's, it was a big deal and the few girls that became pregnant were separated from their classmates, least it make some sort of bad example. But I can only speak to my anecdotal evidence and not to something nationwide.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Hollywood and teachers have become conservative boogeymen. If they actually had the power to brainwash people, this would be a liberal nation, but we aren't. Seriously since the 1960s, teachers and Hollywood have been radical left and yet the public continues to believe in conservative ideas on issue after issue and continues to vote for conservatives for the most part.

As for Obama's election, there are two things to consider. First, less than 20% of the public voted for Obama. And he lost 9 million votes (15% of his total) from 2008, when he ran as a moderate. None of that is consistent with the idea that the country has moved left. The problem is that conservatism has made itself even less attractive. 60% of the public has basically washed their hands of this choice of two evils as they see it.

Also, on the young, in my experience the two groups who are most easily manipulated are the uneducated and the old. Young people, by their natures, tend to be doubters and rebels and manipulating them is difficult because they are fickle and random... but that's just an aside.

On teen pregnancy, I understand that the numbers are down significantly since the 1980s, but I'd have to look into that.

On corporations, this one probably deserves it's own post. But here goes, the reasons for this have nothing to do with Hollywood. Since the 1970s, corporations have been mistreating their employees. They fired all their middle managers and killed the idea of the corporate ladder while giving huge pay raises to the top. They engaged in massive outsourcing. They raided pensions, slashed benefits, withheld raises... all during record profits. So average employees are none-too-happy with them. Then you also have them seeking government handouts again during a period of record profits, lobbying to hamstring competitors (especially small business). They lobbied for Obamacare just so they could dump their healthcare expenses on taxpayers. Then you have the PR issue. First came the legalistic apology. Then the non-apology and the non-denial denial. By now, this has evolved into simply lying and denying. If you do something wrong, just lie about it until you get sued and then settle without admitting a fault. That leaves a very bad taste in people's mouths. They routinely get caught denying known dangers, and deny it even after they are forced to do a "voluntary recall." Then you have forced arbitration with biased arbitrators, boilerplate contracts you can't get out of, multi-year binding contracts, charging you for service calls on their faulty equipment, bait and switch, misleading warranties, insurance that doesn't cover anything, etc. This is the experience average people have with corporations. When that's what you see day in and day out, no maniacal film CEO is needed to make people hate corporations.

On Global Warming, they gave up the Global Ice Age when things started to warm up in the early 1980s. The UN's IPCC was set up in 1988 after years of environmentalists pushing to set it up. That was what led to the surge in Global Warming coverage in the 1990s. Hollywood didn't really catch on until Waterworld in 1995 (by which time this was already being hotly debated in the public), and most global warming films were actually in the 2000s.


AndrewPrice said...


On cigarettes, I don't agree with a ban either. I'm a fan of private property rights and I think people/businesses should be allowed to make up their own minds. But my point isn't what I think is right, my point is that this isn't an issue where the public favored smoking until Hollywood came along and brainwashed them to change their minds.

This is an issue of competing rights, and those almost always go the majority. And in this case, the majority is non-smokers and they don't like smokers for a number of reasons, e.g the personal experience of the smell and the litter. But things really took off in the 1970s, when the health risk became clear. This led to smoking bans beginning to appear everywhere.

Then you add in this...

In the middle of the debate, the cigarette industry has made itself a villain. The lies I mention aren't about nicotine levels, they are about health risks. Until the 1990s, the cigarette industry kept arguing that there was NO link between smoking and cancer. None. Even as every doctor and scientist in the world said the opposite, they kept denying it. Then they got caught when an insider stole a bunch of documents and made them public. These documents showed that the industry knew as early as the 1950s of the link between smoking and cancer. But even at that point, they continued to deny that there was any way to show that your lung cancer was caused by smoking... and some conservatives actually continued to argue there was no link with cancer until the 2000s.

In the meantime, they engaged in abusive trial tactics. They tried to bankrupt people with legal fees, harass people, trick them into settlements, and tried to delay cases decades in the hopes the people would die or would take small settlements just to get something. These are the kinds of tactics that make people hate lawyers and the cigarette companies were all in on these.

Once it became impossible to deny the link to cancer, the industry (and their conservative defenders) bizarrely switched to "everyone knows the risk of cancer from smoking, so we shouldn't let people sue and we should grant the industry immunity." This is from the same people who only weeks before were arguing that anyone who claimed there was a link was a commie liar.

This is why the anti-smoking people won so easily. The public was afraid of the risk and despise the tactics and lies of the pro-smoking people.

Hollywood didn't enter the picture until the late 1980s with some "don't smoke" messages. They never advocated banning smoking. And in fact, at the same time they said "don't smoke," they sent the message that smoking is cool by having all the cool bad guys and the anti-heroes continue to smoke.

So this again has nothing to do with Hollywood, it's an issue where the anti-smoking people had facts on their side and the pro-smoking people chose a disastrous strategy to defend smoking.


tryanmax said...

shawn, the teen pregnancy/mom shows are "reality" programs and they are just as I already described them--they are meant to show dysfunctional people in awful circumstances of their own creation. Yeah, they have the sympathetic moments, but it doesn't alter the fact that the primary purpose of such "reality" programs is to make the viewer feel good about not being like the people on the show.

But I have heard of these shows being derided as "glamorizing" the issue--which is an absurd statement to anyone who has seen these shows. Sure, there are some sickos out there who would gouge their own eye out for 15-minutes of fame (for example, the people on these shows) but the vast majority of people view them as train-wrecks. So to blame these shows for making what they depict look acceptable just exposes the speaker as clueless.

On attaching stigmas to things, I generally don't think that's a valid approach to an issue. It's a breath away from superstition and does nothing to address a problem besides hide it or push it to the margins. I recall one girl that got pregnant in my class in 8th grade. She went who knows where and never came back. Nobody learned a damned thing.

AndrewPrice said...


Gays is the one area where I think Hollywood did play a big role. Hollywood became the window into gay culture and what they showed tended to be very tame and normal. So I do think Hollywood has influenced that -- at the least, they sped up acceptance.

But don't discount a couple other factors. First, the "two consenting adults in their own bedroom" argument is a powerful argument with Americans. That will work every time unless you can show a harm to third persons. And the counter argument was "Jesus hates gays." That's not an argument Americans are going to accept. Moreover, the religious groups predicted a whole host of end of the world stuff -- marriage would vanish, everyone's kids would turn gay, society would breakdown into chaos, religion would come to an end, disease would spread, and the cost of benefits would break the country. Then gay marriage got legalized in a couple states and not a single thing that was predicted would happen has happened. That's when the floodgates opened and attitudes changed.

Secondly, don't discount how many people knew someone who was gay and didn't see them as a menace. So when the issue came up, they not only didn't buy into the fear mongering, they actually fought against it. With millions of people saying, "And just what's wrong with cousin Jerry?" this was always going to be a hard argument for anti-gay groups to win.

Agreed on gender equality. We should embrace equality of opportunity, but never equality of result.

All in all, I agree with you that Hollywood is a fantastic platform to make arguments that support liberals and liberals have been taking advantage of it for decades. But I think ultimately, the only liberal arguments that will succeed are those where the public already believes what Hollywood is preaching. In any event though, conservatives need to get back into this game. We should never leave liberal arguments un-countered.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, Thanks! That's interesting. I'd read several times that the numbers were down, but never looked into it. That's a significant fall.

AndrewPrice said...


No one really tried to stop smoking bans on planes or non smoking sections in restaurants although many grumbled that complying with the rules were a pain in the rear.

This isn't accurate. Cigarette companies and conservative allies fought every one of these things... every step of the way.

The electronic cigarettes that release only water vapor are being talked about being banned in CA.

They release nicotine infused vapor, and no one has tested it yet to determine the medical effects.

Medical claims as to the damage of second hand smoke are specious at best.

This is a conservative myth.

Smoking executives lied in the 1960's I get it but I was not even born until half that decade was over.

And kept lying through the 1990s and beyond and continue to deny most of what has been proven.

No one with a brain does not understand smoking will harm you.

Except conservatives apparently because until they switched to this argument about ten years ago, they were still saying there are no proven risks and thus no one should be allowed to sue cigarette companies.

On your overall point, you're right that the anti-smoking people have gone too far, but they were able to do that because conservatives took themselves out of the debate. That's what happens you play the all or nothing game... you get nothing and the other side eventually gets it all.

shawn said...

It sounds to me that you are saying that educating teens about the effects of having babies is a good thing, I agree. Teens should be made aware of the fact that children are time consuming, exhausting and expensive changes to their parents' lives. The stigma I would attach is that it is less than optimal to have a baby right in the midst of the time you are transitioning from reliance on your parents to self-reliance, that having a child or children requires sacrifices be made by the parents.

Of course I may be just reading something into what you are saying that is not there.

shawn said...

Andrew said:
Medical claims as to the damage of second hand smoke are specious at best.

"This is a conservative myth."

I may not be up to date on any recent studies, but Penn & Teller's show "Bullshit" had on Larry Elder, Dr. Elizabeth Whellan and others talking about the dangers of second hand smoke and recount a case ruling in 1998 that essentially said that the EPA cherry picked their data and threw out data that contradicted the outcome they wanted and that the evidence for second hand smoke causing cancer was specious at best.

You can watch it here : Penn & Teller
Speed ahead to the 5:55 mark to see where it really gets started.

And once again, I'm not trying to encourage anyone to smoke, first hand smoke is Bad, Bad, Bad for you. Concerning second hand smoke, I just believe that people who say "It's my health you are effecting" really mean, "It smells bad and bothers me and therefore you shouldn't be able to do it".

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, You've said a mouthful and I agree in part and disagree in part. Let me see if I can respond in parts...

I think McLuhan is correct only in a limited manner. I interpret him as saying that you can use the medium to send a message. For example, not all television ads are created equal. If you put an ad on late at night, then people will see your product as cheap and probably disreputable. Put it on during the Super Bowl and people will attach a higher value to your product.

And the reason is actually the economic argument behind advertising in general, which is that advertising forms a bond. It is essentially a guarantee of quality because you know that you will lose the investment you made in the ads if you don't maintain the quality of your offerings, i.e. you lose your bond if you don't live up to your promises. Thus, companies who advertise more or spend more on advertising by placing them in more expensive places, are seen as offering a higher bond to support their quality and thus are seen as having higher quality goods. Companies who only advertise a little are seen as not offering a strong bond. Companies who don't advertise are seen as least reliable. That actually makes sense to me and I think that's right.

That said, I don't think this theory has a connection to conservative thinking on glorification. I think conservative thinking about glorification comes from the faulty belief that I often see in conservatives that all things are either good or bad, with no shade of gray, i.e. true or false. If something is false/bad, then giving it a platform is seen as glorification no matter how it gets used. No attempt is made to determined whether or not the thing is glorified or denigrated substantively... simple giving it a platform is enough to be seen as glorifying.

I'm not entirely sure where this comes from, but I think it comes from religious teaching. It seems that a large number of religious groups teach their followers that they need to hide evil things from their children. In other words, rather than teaching them why drugs or pre-marital sex is bad, they are taught "shield your children from these things... keep them pure." That impulse seems to be carrying over here.

This is also the same problem I keep running into that so many people today take an all or nothing view of the world. Take the brainwashing argument. We've discussed this before in other contexts and I've had people take the position that the media brainwashes the public. When I countered by showing that a majority of the public actually goes the other way than the media wants, someone always responded with the idea that if the media had no power to brainwash, then no one would go the other way. In other words, the fact the public isn't 100% conservative must mean the media has brainwashed them. That is of course delusional... humans are split 50/50 on almost anything. Similarly, my discussions of outreach always result in someone saying, "But we'll never get them all, so this won't work," as if getting anything less than 100% equals 0%. I'm seeing more and more of this these days.

tryanmax said...

shawn, I think you are reading me correctly. We just seem to have different understandings of the word "stigma."

As I understand it, a stigma is simply declaring anyone who gets pregnant as a teen is a very bad person and ought to be ashamed.

There's no name I can think of for simply giving someone the advice and rational to avoid getting pregnant while a teen as well as the education to support that decision.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, This actually highlights a problem with conservative thinking on consumer risk:

When someone points out a risk, industry tends to respond by arguing that the risk "isn't conclusively proven" and "will destroy jobs." Conservatives typically jump up to defend the industry using these same lines.

The problem is that "not conclusively proven" is a false test. What the industry argues is that there isn't 100% certainty. Well, there's never 100% certainty in science. There isn't even 100% certainty that gravity is real. That's why science doesn't require 100% certainty to conclude something is true. But industry takes advantage of this to argue that less than 100% is not conclusive.

So more studies get done. Meanwhile, industry attacks everyone doing the studies, both through lawsuits and attempts to discredit: "Commies who want to destroy jobs... disgruntled... looking for fame... didn't George Soros give money to the college where this guy works? etc." Rush and the boys dutifully parrot this stuff, usually mentioning Alar.

As the evidence piles up consistently, industry knows they are in trouble. So the next phase is to commission their own fake study. These are done by paid experts with rigged conditions and small sample sizes. There is a lot of evidence too that they keep doing these studies over and over until they get the result they want and then bury the prior studies. Having created a counter-study, they put it out and get their allies to latch onto that: "See... those other dozens studies were all wrong! There's nothing wrong with ___!" Then people point out how this is a fake study and the story switches to: "There's so much confusion and these studies all reach different results that there's no way to know what's true! You can't trust scientists anyway!"

Next, the government decides it needs to act. Industry changes tactics and argues that compliance would be too expensive and tries to lobby Congress to stop the agency. The government continues, so industry sends out people to attack the government agency's decision for "cherry picking" because they ignored the industry study and went with the overwhelming evidence. That's like saying a jury was biased because they went with the ten eye witnesses and ignored the mother's claim that he was home feeding poor people when the murder happened.

Finally, when industry realizes they have lost, they fess up fast and point fingers at all their competitors and substitutes so that they aren't put at a disadvantage when regulation comes down the pike.

This is what conservatives have done with every single consumer issue that has come up, from asbestos to radiation to smoking to led paint. This is why the public has tuned conservatives out on issues like consumer protection.

And in terms of second hand smoke, the issue has been widely studied with consistent results. It is accepted by every medical group on the planet, including the CDC -- who don't accept things willy nilly (LINK). The only people still fighting this are industry and conservatives who cling to the "not conclusively proven" argument that makes no sense scientifically speaking.

There are times that bad science is made, but this is not one of those.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, actually we're in close agreement. I think we're just focusing on different points on the same end of the spectrum.

We're both saying that certain people regard any discussion of what is false/bad as glorification. TV and movies only really enter the discussion insofar as these people aren't railing against comic books and jazz, though in a prior age, you can be certain they would have been. Certainly, anyone who doesn't understand the concept of a negative portrayal in media doesn't "get it" as I've described.

I have most defenitely encountered those in religious circles who think anything bad must be merely hidden away--folks who liken televisions to sewage pipes running into people's homes. I'm not denying that they exist.

But I'm also seeing lesser offenders. When I consider the essential backfire of things like Duck Dynasty I can only conclude that large numbers are also just missing the point. If conservatives at large actually "got" Duck Dynasty as it was intended, they'd have been offended well before any remarks were made about homosexuals, but none were.

On McLuhan, keep in mind that he was extremely "meta" in his understanding of media. His assertions generally come off as simplistic but often aren't. (I wonder if this wasn't intentional on his part?) To McLuhan, something as simple as a lightbulb could be considered a medium because it illuminated a space for other messages to be presented. Once you start thinking like that, everything becomes complex. The advertising-bond fits right in with his theories, and I'm sure he would have endorsed it just before digging twelve layers deeper.

The limitation of McLuhan's discussions--indeed of all the thinkers dealing with mass media, so far as I've encountered--is that in their words, there is something implicit to suggest that the "mass" will react more or less homogeneously to any given medium or message. Mass communication is fascinating unto itself, but even moreso as channels fracture. I'm not sure that any of the mid-20th C. thinkers got so far as that. I'm not certain who the late-20th C. thinkers even were/are?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Glad to hear it! :)

As a quick aside, on this point (I have most defenitely encountered those in religious circles who think anything bad must be merely hidden away), that's actually the idea behind political correctness too on the left: if we pretend something doesn't exist, then it will vanish off the face of the earth. Doesn't work... never will.


Like you, I'm a little amazed that conservatives have embraced Duck Dynasty. For one thing, as you note, the show was meant as an attack on people in fly-over country -- "Ha ha, look at the stupid hillbillies!" For another, the Duckers are at best irresponsible clowns. Every episode is about one of them destroying the property of another, failing to perform some commitment, or misleading the others. In effect, they are camouflage wearing clowns acting out sitcom-level plots in staged real life situations. I suspect the earnest prayer at the end has confused people.

On McLuhan, I'm not saying he's wrong, not at all. I think he's right. The choice of location can send all kinds of signals. Where I disagree is with the interpretation by people that placement equals endorsement. I don't doubt that people believe this, but I think it's wrong. To understand whether or not endorsement is intended, you need to look at the way it's presented and the surrounding commentary.

To give a comparison, Dirty Jobs wants you to really be interested in the people he meets. Jersey Shore wants you to mock the train wreck. And I think it's an error when people don't realize that the difference is significant.

Great point about mass communication. Humans always fragment into different groups with different reactions. That's just the way we are. So that is something that always needs to be accounted for.

tryanmax said...

I suspect the earnest prayer at the end has confused people.


As to placement = endorsement, I think that sorta fits what McLuhan was trying to impress on everyone. It takes a particular degree of media-savvy to begin to distinguish the medium from the message and, until then, the medium will be the dominant message. If McLuhan had been more direct (which he rarely was) he might have said "You think you're saying one thing, but when you say it through this channel, you're really saying something else."

But at the same time, every medium eventually becomes as background noise. This is really just another way of saying that savvy of a particular medium becomes commonplace. Of course, no medium can entirely slip into the background, but it can inch closer to what every medium is meant to be and yet no medium is: mere conveyance. Perhaps fragmentation plays a role in this. As the number of messages a single medium conveys becomes more diverse, more attention must be paid to the message than the medium, rendering the latter less influential.

And here is where I think conservatives are just generally less media-savvy. First of all, as I said before, TV is a medium of mediums. For example, reality programming is a medium with the medium of TV which conveys messages specific to reality programming. This medium itself has become fragmented as you describe above: some are meant to glorify while others are to put down. As a group, conservatives tend to come late to all manner of new media and so have difficulty navigating them when they do arrive. This is amplified by the fact that the new norms seem obvious to everyone else because they witnessed them taking shape.

The best example I can think of that is recent is the right-wing reaction to Jerry Springer. Granted, the show is just awful to begin with, but many of it's detractors went after it as though it were a Donahue or Sally type show. My understanding is that it did kinda start that way, but the show evolved into what eventually became a new genre of talk show. Those who watched it all along witnessed the evolution and understood it for what it was while the detractors attacked it for something it wasn't.

There's actually a parallel divide when it comes to talk radio. Those who have listened to Rush since the 80s or 90s have a tremendous base of knowledge about the man's ideas, beliefs, attitudes, sense of humor, and so on. But he has changed over the years, imperceptibly to his most ardent fans. Thus, when he issues a particularly cantankerous one-liner, they understand it in the spirit it was intended, while anyone who has come later or only listens occasionally only hears the cantankerousness. This shouldn't be taken as a defense of Rush's carelessness, BTW, but only serves as an illustration.

tryanmax said...

Something that I meant to say but skipped over: When it comes to reality programming, conservatives as a group are behind the curve and are viewing every such program as if it were a PBS documentary. This is where I think they get the false notion that anything presented in that format is glorifying the subject matter. This also accounts for the fact that conservatives, more than not, are now able to distinguish between heroes and anti-heroes in fiction whereas earlier in my own lifetime, as a rule, they were not.

tryanmax said...

This occurs to me late that what I just said could be summarized by saying that familiarity is a medium's lubricant. It is a common (though not universal) tendency to criticize that with which one is not familiar. The error conservatives routinely make is to criticize those things with which the Average Joe is familiar with.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's definitely a problem for conservatives. Throughout my life, they've jumped on things over and over and over without a clue what they were shouting about. The result was always that non-conservatives saw them as out of touch and intolerant.

And I think you make a great point that conservatives largely just don't understand how the culture works. You see this all the time when some conservative starts talking about embracing the culture and their idea is either a book by some talk radio host or a film that looks suspiciously like a political speech.

That would also explain their inability to recognize cultural trends, to spot opportunities, to exploit new technologies, and to reach out... because they can't relate to the people they are trying to reach.

shawn said...

All right Andrew, I visited your link to the CDC. Did a fair amount of reading past the highlights listed on the page- including a 35 page executive summary of 2006 surgeon generals report.

I completely skipped over the effects of second hand smoke on children, because I believe that with their under-developed lungs and immune system, they are a higher risk/sensitivity and won't contest that smoking around them in dangerous to their health and development.

I was more interested in the adult population. First off, the report includes the EPA report that was found to be biased in the 1998 decision in "Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corp v. United States Environmental Protection Agency". Presumably because as I continued to read, I came across this entry "In Dec 2002, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit on the basis that tobacco companies cannot sue the EPA over its second-hand smoke report because the report was not a final agency action and therefore not subject to court review." I'm not a lawyer, so I have to admit that I don't quite follow what was just said- I believe it says that because the EPA took no actions based on the report, the courts can't review the report. If that's a correct reading of that- then it seems a little weasle-ish to me, as other agencies are taking action and making proclamations based off of said report. If I am reading that incorrectly, then never mind. I will point out that it was reviewed by a court and the EPA lost.

Two elements were troubling to me in what I did read:
1) The use of data based on observational studies instead of clinical trials.
2) The small number of participants. The largest I saw listed was 81 participants. (Full disclosure, I only read the executive summary and skimmed through chapters 2 and 3 of the complete report of the 2006 Surgeon General's report, it was in chapter 3 that I saw one of the studies having 81 participants.)

The most interesting thing I learned from the report, higher levels of carcinogins and particulate matter in "sidestream" smoke than in "mainstream" smoke. Sidestream smoke being smoke that comes off of a cigarette as it burns, either in the smoker's hand or laying in an ashtray. Mainstream smoke is that which the smoker inhales. I assume the reason for this is due to filters being on cigarettes. The study also said that increased air dilution dramatically decreased this effect. Ie- the further you were away from the smoke, the better off you are.

I was not thrilled with the claim that nonsmokers have an increased 20-30% risk of lung cancer if their spouse/partner smokes. While this may be true in their results, I would like to know what the rate for lung cancer is amongst the general population. By this I mean- is the rate 1000 people per million? If so, then you could extrapolate those nonsmoker's that live with smokers rate to be 1200-1300. That's a 20-30% increase. It's also a mortality rate of 1.2-1.3% vs 1%. I would call that statisically negligible.
Or is something on the order of 50 people per 100. A 20% increase would be 60 people per 100. This would be a mortality rate of 60% vs 50%. A 10% increase is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Without those numbers, I have to admit, I'm a bit underwhelmed by what I read, aside from the levels of carcinogins in sidestream smoke. But I admit that I did not do an exhaustive reading of the materials at hand.

AndrewPrice said...

shawn, A couple points. First, don't lose track of the fact that this is about what the public believes. In that regard, my point is that reputable science has drawn this link -- not Hollywood. And the public has accepted it along with the other reasons the public opposes smoking. So when the issue came up of the rights of smokers v. nonsmokers, the nonsmokers acted rationally and in their self-interest, not irrationally in a manner Hollywood had told them against the evidence.

In terms of the studies themselves, the reason I pointed to the CDC is that the CDC is not a group who will pick a random study and declare the issue solved... they are not a politicized agency. They are generally very conservative/cautious in terms of what they will accept officially and they fund lots of genuine studies to investigate medical issues. I have clients who do a lot of work for them (and NIH) on an incredible range of issues. And in this case, the issue of the risk of smoking and then second hand smoke has been studied hundreds (if not thousands) of times, in a great many countries, and the results remain consistent over and over.

So the reason I point to them is to point out that while the pro-smoking side points to a couple people who speak very carefully about "conclusively proven," the other side had tens of thousands of doctors and researchers who have all reached the opposite conclusion both from studies and decades of personal observations and the consensus is so uniform that agencies like the CDC have decided to accept the consensus.

In terms of the effect, a lot of it is what you would expect -- the further you are, the less harm. That's the nature of pollution generally... distance equals safety. But if you are in something like an airplane, a restaurant, a bar, or a bus, then distance becomes impossible to achieve, so again the nonsmokers are acting rational. In terms of mortality rate, keep in mind that small numbers add up fast when you're talking about 310 million people. 1% of that is three million people. Moreover, people tend to assume that they will be one of the 1%, so there is bias toward safety in the public's mindset.

In terms of why they would do observational studies, it's because no one is going to be willing to expose themselves to possible death to conduct a more thorough study. Besides, if you do that, then people scream, "But lab conditions are like real life!" So they study real life and look for statistical patterns, i.e. children of smokers having more lung cancer.

On the legal stuff, what that means is entirely procedural. It means the cigarette companies could not sue the EPA to drop the report because the report was not a final agency action. Basically, you can't sue an agency to stop its internal workings. You can only sue it when it takes a final official act, e.g. when it issues a new regulation.

Think of it this way. It would be like suing McDonalds because they put the mustard too close to the ketchup in the kitchen. You can't do that. If the burger turns out with too much mustard, then you could sue and you could point to the way the kitchen is arranged as negligence, but you can't pre-sue to change what you think is negligent behavior that will lead to something you don't like. That's basically what they were doing here. And the court ruling said they need to wait until the EPA acts on the report before they can challenge its validity in court.

AndrewPrice said...

And to be clear, I'm not a fan of consensus in science because that's most often used as a means to politicize something. But in this case, when everyone reaches the same result except a handful of industry tests done to sabotage the science, the consensus of evidence is that there is something to this.

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