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Skrabanek revelled in debunking conventional thinking

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.316.7144.1553e (Published 23 May 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1553

Petr Skrabanek, who died in 1994, was a witty and popular contributor to the Lancet who wrote amusing articles debunking conventional medical thinking. Born in Bohemia and trained in Ireland, he began his career as a forensic toxicologist but changed to epidemiology.

A chainsmoker, he deplored “healthism” and rejected the notion that many diseases were preventable and that diet and other lifestyle factors shortened life. When he died at the age of 53 from prostate cancer he was associate professor of community health at Trinity College, Dublin.

The Covington and Burling memo says one of the company's consultants “published a book exposing the vagaries of medical truisms” called Follies and Fallacies in Medicine.

The book was cowritten by Dr Skrabanek and James McCormick, emeritus professor of community health at Trinity College, Dublin. Professor McCormick said: “I have never had a cheque from Philip Morris.” Asked if Dr Skrabanek had received money from a tobacco company, he said: “Petr may have done. I don't know if he did. We both knew there were people in the tobacco industry and elsewhere who thought our views were less inimical to their products than others.”

Subjects of Dr Skrabanek's Lancet articles included smoking and statistical overkill, and smoking and coronary heart disease in women. Robin Fox, editor of the Lancet 1990-5, said the journal was unaware that he was a consultant to a tobacco company. His obituary in the Times described him as “an acute critic of modern medical humbug” who had “many admirers throughout the world.”