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The sociology of tobacco, or The tobacco of sociology

From Aaron Swartz, a link stating that famous sociologist Peter L. Berger was a big-time consultant for the Tobacco Insitute:

Peter L. Berger is an academic social philosopher and sociologist who served as a consultant to the tobacco industry starting with the industry’s original 1979 Social Costs/Social Values Project (SC/SV). According to a 1980 International Committee on Smoking Issues/Social Acceptability Working Party (International Committee on Smoking Issues/SAWP) progress report, Berger’s primary assignment was “to demonstrate clearly that anti-smoking activists have a special agenda which serves their own purposes, but not necessarily the majority of nonsmokers.”

Berger assisted the industry by developing non-health based arguments in defense of tobacco. He specifically developed the arguments that the anti-smoking movement is a class struggle of the richer, more educated groups against the poorer and less-educated groups, that public health advocates are elitists who are driven by quasi-religious, messianic urges and seek to punish non-believers (smokers) through the application of taxes and fines.

Berger contributed a chapter to Robert Tollison’s industry-commissioned book, Smoking and Society, in which he (Berger) did disclose his affiliation with the industry. In his chapter, titled “A Sociological View of the Antismoking Phenomenon,” Berger described the anti-smoking movement as a “health cult” in which doctors were the “priests” and hospitals the “sanctuaries.” . . .

A description of his professional accomplishments (listed under the staff description section of Boston University’s web site) lists the institutions where Berger has taught, the books he has written and the awards he has received, but contains no mention Berger’s past affiliations with the tobacco industry, nor any of the work he has done on their behalf.

I’m certainly in no position to criticize someone for working for the tobacco industry. Still, it’s interesting. The only thing I’ve read by Berger is his book that begins with the line about there being no jokes about sociologists. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed from that book that he worked for the Tobacco Institute. Thank you for smoking, indeed.


  1. TGGP says:

    Have you read Honestly, Who Else Would Fund Such Research? by Michael Marlow?

    Would a sociologist be expected to list those sorts of things in a description of their professional accomplishments? Did he mention any NAS grants? Or are some funders so special different standard apply?

  2. Andrew Gelman says:

    Very interesting; thanks for the link to the Marlow article. Different people list different things on their webpages. My CV lists the grants on which I'm the principal investigator but excludes many projects in which I'm not the lead researcher. I do list some of my consulting projects, but I can't say I remembered to include all of them. I don't think it's particularly damning that Berger's university website doesn't mention his tobacco consulting. I went to his webpage and it had a long list of funders, but only for 2007-2008, and presumably the tobacco funding was no longer active by that point.

    Beyond this, you can click through the last link in the above blog entry to see my discussion (from a few years ago) of some of the ethical issues of tobacco consulting a few years ago, in the context of Don Rubin's article, "The ethics of consulting for the tobacco industry."

  3. Andrew Gelman says:

    P.S. Regarding your second point (in which you linked to a blog by Robin Hanson questioning why some groups of anthropologists oppose U.S. military funding): I actually have military funding right now, so this reveals where I stand on the issue personally. But I can see where the anthropologists are coming from, as a general principle. It's all about where you draw the line. For example, I don't know that I'd trust political science research funded by Muammar el-Qaddafi. It's not unreasonable to think that funders are trying to get something for their money, and if you don't trust the funders, I can see why you wouldn't want them around.

  4. Bob says:

    A well funded "war on smokers" is underway. Here's where it started:

    And what the 99 million dollars was going to. Note on page seven the "inside -out", provision going for patios later, AFTER business owners spend thousands of dollars to build them to accommodate their smoking customers, clearly showing that the tobacco control activists have ABSOLUTLY NO CONCERN about local issues or businesses. You may need to CTRL and scoll to enlarge it.