Calibrating Brit Geneticists

A few days back we quoted a piece on cousin marriage (my ellipsis):

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, agreed that there was a higher risk of defects (in cousin marriage) but drinking or smoking in pregnancy was “as bad if not worse”.

But now it turns out the statistics on smoking in pregnancy are junk:

Smoking in pregnancy is far less damaging to the unborn baby than commonly supposed, detailed analysis suggests…

The study by Emma Tominey, a research assistant at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, throws new light on government efforts to stop women smoking when they become pregnant.

(The study) shows that the worst effects are suffered by women from the poorest backgrounds, because in their case smoking is often combined with other unhealthy activities, such as poor diet and consumption of alcohol.

Middle-class women suffer almost no damaging effects, the analysis suggests, even if they continue to smoke throughout pregnancy.

That would explain why Mrs G’s smoking in pregnancy failed to stunt the growths of our altitudinous offspring.

It’s extraordinarily depressing to find that, until Ms. Tominey, none of the statistical surveys have controlled for the many other variables that might influence a baby’s birth weight.

Controlling is essential in all attempts to establish causality from statistical surveys. That’s because variables are interdependent – a poor mother might, as well as smoking, eat badly, drink to drown her sorrows, suffer physical abuse, and so on.

These factors are called dependent variables, and their effects must be removed before it’s possible to pontificate on the effects of any single behavior, such as smoking.

Ms. Tominey’s study tells us that hasn’t been done until now, and that people relying on those junk results, including Mr. Jones, are fools.


5 Responses to Calibrating Brit Geneticists

  1. dearieme says:

    Mr Jones writes lots of interesting stuff, but is also hopelessly PC. Which means, of course, that I can’t trust his interesting stuff.

    PS is there any decent evidence on the deadly effects of passive smoking?

  2. gandalf says:


    No decent evidence, just lots of junk.

    The Wikipedia entry has the same hallmarks as the global warmenists – appeals to “scientific consensus” and ad hominem attacks on critics. The stats are laughable:

    In the first 18 months after the town of Pueblo, Colorado enacted a smoking ban in 2003, hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped 27%.

    Since, pace Karl Popper, the sole distinguishing feature of scientific belief is its encouragement of criticism, it follows that passive smoking science is entirely unscientific.

  3. Den says:

    Whatever you or anyone else may say, smoking is NOT a good habit, either for pregnant women or anyone else. After 23 years of not smoking (which followed 22 years of at least a packet a day) I can still feel the effects.

    However, that said, I do not like “witchhunting” or the current trend of treating the smoker as an outcast and hounding them into clusters around the doors of office buildings, puffing away while shivering. Not enjoying their smoke at all, just having it because they must feed their nicotine starved bodies.

  4. dearieme says:

    Den, smoking cigarettes is a filthy and dangerous habit in my view. And I loathe being subjected to other people’s smoke. But I suspected, based on a little reading about 15 years ago, that the evidence that passive smoking is routinely deadly was feeble. I’m interested to know whether there is better evidence now.

  5. gandalf says:


    I agree, it’s a nasty habit, and I hate the smell anywhere but inside a pub (although Blair/Brown have now banned that).

    But I’m objecting to the use of junk science by governments and pressure groups to impose their aesthetic preferences on others.

    That way lies terrible oppression – the Nazi used the junk science of Eugenics to justify their genocides.

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