Here goes another peculiar analogy. I notice that Uncle Eli has been thinking along related lines.

The doctor (and anyone else I speak to) tells me, unequivocally, that since my MI (heart attack), I absolutely have to quit smoking. No surprises there, then.

Why? Putting aside the derivative opinions of those who aren’t really qualified to know (most of the people who say this apart from the experts), what is the scientific basis of the nedical advice I am receiving? And what will the consequences of ignoring it be?

First, let’s look at the explanation I have been given. By continuing to smoke, I would increase the risk of further heart attacks, probably double it. How does the doctor know this? The cardiologists have a large information base, demonstrating a statistical relationship, historically, between smoking and heart attacks; the evidence is very strong that smokers are more at risk than non-smokers. This statistical probability is generated from real data, and expresses the likelihood/risk of future damage/injury on well-understood physical and theoretical principles.

I can be confident, though, that I don’t have to heed their advice; I could take up smoking again if I wish after all, it’s a free world (cough). For whilst I am told that I would be at an increased risk, it is, after all, only a statistical risk; there is no certainty that I would have another attack, nor can they specify a timescale, either for another prospective attack, or for my future mortality (which will come, its just a matter of when…).

So while I can reasonably assume that I would be at increased risk if I did smoke, I can also (apparently) rationally choose to ignore this advice, since it is speculative and not able to commit to a certainty that I will have a heart attack in the future.

What do you think? Should I take up smoking again? Am I trying to find an excuse to continue doing something which I enjoy and is a habit, even though I know that it is going to be bad for me eventually?

Likewise, I can (apparently) rationally choose to ignore the experts who have used real world data and have calculated the risks using statistical probability, to tell me that the climate is warming, that sea level will rise this century, that patterns of weather on which agriculture and food supply rely are likely to change. After all, their analysis is also ‘speculative’, and there are no certainties about the future of the climate/environment.

Here is the chance for you to give me some advice, then; should I adapt (smoke, but stop if I don’t feel well?), mitigate (stop and avoid the increased risk altogether?), or ameliorate (buy some chewing gum/patches, eat boiled sweets, whatever?). Perhaps I can just ignore it, and it will all go away eventually… ater all, we all have to die some time. 🙂

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