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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Suppressed Studies

Let me tell you a story. A big, powerful institution commissioned a report into something important. But the authors ended up writing something that the institution’s leaders couldn’t accept. They found it unpalatable. It went against their orthodox dogmas. So, they suppressed it. It never saw the light of day. It’s the report they didn’t want you to read.

Nice story. But does that mean the report is true? Couldn’t they be smarter than the authors of the report? Is “Commissioned to write a report by a big powerful institution” a qualification you would respect in any other context? Maybe they didn’t want you to read the report because it was just a bit rubbish?

The past couple of weeks has seen two classic texts from the ever-popular genre of Suppressed Reports. There was the World Health Organization study on cocaine that concluded that it isn’t all that harmful. And then there was the Environmental Protection Agency report that was sceptical of global warming. They didn’t want you to read either, so we’re told.

I’m not saying these reports are wrong. I haven’t read either. But it’s odd that their "suppression" has granted them the kind of uncritical attention that they would never have had if they’d just been published normally. How many global warming skeptics take what the Environmental Protection Agency says seriously? Yet when they deliberately don’t say something, they’re all ears. It’s like Catholics taking the Pope’s word as infallible, but only when he doesn’t want them to. It’s the argument from authority in reverse.

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