LETTERS: Smoke screen

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In his impassioned plea for continued government funding of science ("The science of wealth creation", Review, 28 July), Lewis Wolpert claims that only the state would ever support research into the effects of smoking on health. This, he says, is because the tobacco industry would find it against its interests to do so. In fact the story is much more complicated.

In the United States, the world's largest cigarette producer, the tobacco industry has been traditionally in the forefront of research on smoking. Why? Because scientists operate with such "rigorous" standards of causation that their incapacity to assert any causal links between smoking and lung cancer without an indefinite number of experiments serves as the ultimate bulwark against policymakers who would dare suggest that cigarettes be banned altogether. Instead of ensuring a steady stream of funds for scientific research, Wolpert would do better to deploy his considerable talents to identify ways in which appeals to "more research" operate as delaying actions in debates that would be better resolved by political means.

Steve Fuller

Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Durham

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