All too often, epidemiologic science is held up to be incontrovertible fact, synonymous with immutable truth, and then, to make matters worse, it’s accepted blindly by the popular press and reported as such. Later, if the conclusions or editorial comments by researchers are found by peer review to be deceptive, conceptually flawed, or distorted, it is too late to correct original perceptions. First impressions are lasting impressions, regardless of whether they’re inaccurate, invalid, or based on hyped scientific findings.

The entire debate on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)—that is, diffused smoke in a room as a result of people smoking tobacco products—is a prime example of this folly.

Epidemiologists and medical scientists should be both baffled and alarmed by the attention given the flurry of .studies concerning ETS, one of the most recent cases being a study in New York state concerning detection of trace amounts of cotinine in the urine...

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