In the past few days, was discussed in Germany a lot about air pollution. Scientists, Doctors, trade associations have been involved and contradictory positions taken. Accordingly, our current exposure limits for fine dust and nitrogen oxides are either much too severe or much too lax. Bad air is overrated either dangerous, or as a health problem extremely.

Who is not even an epidemiologist or lung doctor, ask might be, which side you should believe, what it depends on, unfortunately, a weakness of the media coverage of the past few days, the so-called “false balance”, the wrong weighting.

Which statement do you trust more?

Embark on a little thought experiment. Hide first of all, the debate of the past few days, as well as it goes, and read the following two sentences:

1. “Adverse health effects of air diseases well studied and documented are pollutants in both the General population and in patients with different reason.” 2. “Lung doctors see in their practices and clinics, this (cigarette smoke induced) deaths from COPD and lung cancer on a daily basis; however, Deaths due to fine dust and NOx, even with careful anamnesis, never.”

do you trust any of the statements spontaneously? Reject you immediately? You don’t want to decide (yet), because of lack of information?


The first sentence comes from a position paper of the German society for pneumology (DGP) and respiratory medicine of 2018. The second is from a recent opinion, the spring was a leader created by the lung doctor Dieter Köhler, the former President of the society. About a hundred more pulmonologists have signed it.

Na bravo!

in Case you were still undecided, has not helped this classification probably. The lung doctors are saying one thing, the other the other. Well bravo. Why should you trust an expert more, the other less?

Which brings us to the “false balance”. The two sentences stand there, as if they were equivalent, one must give both equally trust or at least attention. However, this is a fallacy due to the false representation and the here to the whole of the debate transferred.

In the discussion, Dieter Köhler came as the Initiator of opinion almost everywhere. He could again and again have to explain that the scientific data contain a “systematic error”, “extremely one-sided” is interpreted that most of the smokers would have to die after months, if air pollution constituted such a risk.

in the worst case, arrogant

Sometimes he was in the process of epidemiologists – scientists, or Doctors, who have to deal with the spread of diseases, its causes, and its consequences – is contradicted. Köhler don’t just know, “like today, risk assessment is made”, said the epidemiologist, Heinz-Erich Wichmann at “Anne Will”. The sounds in the best case, if unnerved, and the worst arrogant.

In such disputes the impression that both Parties would have a similarly valid point easy. You must decide just who you want to believe.

But the point is, the Köhler together with around a hundred lung doctors, is only seemingly equivalent to what can be, for example, in the above two sentences to explain.

MORE on THE TOPIC of environmental Medicine against lung doctor, and the limits Protect our health?

“adverse Health effects of air diseases well studied and documented”, writes the DGP are pollutants in both the General population and in patients with different reason. The position paper has 451 source information, such as the lung, the doctor, Kai-Michael Beeh mentioned in a guest post. The paper goes on still existing uncertainties and explains to these Places, what specific studies are lacking so far. It is, what biological mechanisms are already known or suspected that air pollutants, not only the respiratory tract but other organs may cause damage.

in Short: It’s not just claims that air pollutants damage the health, but it proves the assertion, and points to the own limits of knowledge. This does not mean that you should follow each and every conclusion of this position paper for the blind, but you should take it very seriously.

“lung doctors see in their practices and clinics, this (cigarette smoke induced) deaths from COPD and lung cancer on a daily basis; however, Deaths due to fine dust and NOx, even with careful anamnesis, never.” So it is in the Opinion of Köhler and his colleagues – and, at first glance, it sounds like a plausible. On the second, this assertion, however, raises questions.

how do the doctors know, that in the case of a specific patient, the serious lung disease COPD due to Smoking or a specific patient is ill because of their consumption of Cigarettes to lung cancer? Although Smoking is associated with a dramatically increased risk for both diseases. But whether it was in the case of the shutter, so that the physician can takes just. And if non-smokers develop lung cancer and COPD, where Köhler and his co-signatories want to know then, that this is not due to air pollution, fine dust,?


“The estimated number of deaths due to Smoking is determined on the basis of statistical relationships from epidemiological studies, just as we underestimate the deaths due to air pollution,” declared the epidemiologist Michael Brauer of the University of British Columbia.

Köhler and his co-signing say here something that sounds conclusive, but on closer inspection, questionable and will not be further documented. Both sentences are not equivalent and should not be presented in that way.

“False Balance” has long been a Problem of climate reporting in the individual, by the scientific consensus, dissenting opinions have a disproportionate amount of space was given. Sometimes it occurs with other health issues to light, in which the scientific evidence is solid, but against voices always be heard – as with Vaccination, or homeopathy.

And now?

This is not to say that we should ignore the opinion of köhler’s would prefer to have all of them. A questioning of established, cherished hypotheses is, in principle, wrong with never. But that should not lead to – as it is for the most part – the critics all completely uncritically believed. Anyone who questioned that must also be questioned.

Sam Yoon has many years of experiences in journalism. He has covered such areas as information technology, science, sports and politics. Yoon can be reached at 82-2-6956-6698.