An article in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association),
reporting on the recent Surgeon General's review of the health effects
of secondhand smoke, brings to the forefront the controversy over
whether the Surgeon General misrepresented
the science in his public communications surrounding the report's
controversy stems from the press release and other ancillary materials
released by the Surgeon General to accompany the report itself.
Here is what those ancillary materials stated:
According to the Surgeon General's press release:
brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the
cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung
cancer, the report says."
According to the Surgeon General's remarks to the media:
secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the
cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful
effects on blood and blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of
a heart attack."
According to the Surgeon General's accompanying fact sheet:
secondhand smoke for even a short time can have immediate adverse
effects on the cardiovascular system, interfering with the normal
functioning of the heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that
increase the risk of heart attack."
And according to the Surgeon General's accompanying brochure:
a short time in a smoky room causes your blood platelets to stick
together. Secondhand smoke also damages the lining of your blood
vessels. In your heart, these bad changes can cause a deadly heart
These claims are markedly different from those
made in the Surgeon General's report itself, which concludes that
chronic exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk for heart
disease, but does not conclude (or even present evidence that) a brief
exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, heart attacks, or
This is a classic technique used today in scientific reports on global warming, where the report itself is often full of cautionary language about potential problems in the models and the uncertainties in predicting climate, but the summary and press releases make doom and gloom statements with absolute certainty that aren't actually supported by the research they purport to summarize.
In both cases, the principles justify the exaggeration of the public message as all in a "good cause", which of course is the justification every lying politician uses. Even Ted Stevens.