Dr. Rand Paul Fails Asthma Science

Kentucky senator misleads and misdirects on claims that air pollution affects asthma rates.

Rand Paul's dubious claim is bad news for the 25 million asthma sufferers in the United States. (Photo: Getty Images)
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

With so many things unraveling right now, it must be hard for a libertarian like Rand Paul to select just one bone to pick with the nation. But a few weeks ago, the Kentucky senator managed to find his new raison d'etre, commandeering the Senate floor to take on his latest cause: debunking the link between air pollution and asthma.

Amazingly, he did it with a straight face.

"We have decreased pollution and rising incidence of asthma," announced Paul, according to the AP. "Either they are inversely proportional or they are not related at all."

To prove his point, Paul offered up a chart that showed growing asthma rates and decreasing pollution in California, which he claimed was from a May 2003 paper from the California Department of Health Services. The actual source, as reported by the AP, was a 2006 paper "Facts Not Fear on Air Pollution," authored by Joel Schwartz, an independent consultant, and commissioned by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

This, in fact, is what the original department paper said: "[Asthma attacks] can be triggered by exposures and conditions such as respiratory infections, house dust mites, animal dander, mold, pollen, exercise, tobacco smoke, and indoor and outdoor air pollutants."

Let's just assume for one Kentucky second that Paul is right, and low-lying sulfur dioxide and ozone-infused air have no impact whatsoever on the inflamed airways of the asthmatic. Does it really make it any less of a problem? Is Paul suggesting that we're overly concerned with air quality? Or that we're barking up the wrong tree with asthma research? It's hard to imagine what, besides offering yet another out for big business, the value is of bringing up something like this on the Senate floor.

Paul, an ophthalmologist and son of a doctor, should know better than to be citing as proof non-peer reviewed papers that fly in the face of most all medical science. He should know that two lines going into opposite directions on a chart does not make for conclusive evidence, especially when dealing with a disorder with origins as ambiguous as asthma. He should, but clearly, he doesn't.

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