Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Misusing the idea of 'evidence' - the case of alcohol policy


It's Alcohol Awareness Week when all the fussbuckets issue tutting press releases lecturing ordinary folk about how they're drinking too much. These are leapt on by gleeful health reporters keen to fill pages with yet another load of old toss about how what we're eating and drinking is leading us to an early grave.

So we shouldn't be surprised if two of the UK's leading centres of fussbucketry - Sterling and Sheffield Universities - have published a new report about alcohol policy. The premise of the report is this:

Alcohol policies across the four UK nations vary widely in the extent to which they are grounded in scientific evidence, with political considerations appearing to have significant bearing

Awful, I think you'll agree, awful. How very dare politicians take account of "political considerations" such as how many jobs, businesses, exports and so forth link to the drinks industry.

What concerns me here is what these people consider to be evidence. And the truth here is that we're not talking about evidence at all but rather about a report setting out a series of policy proposals loosely based on a selective interpretation of the "evidence" and wholly wedded to the lie that alcohol harm is a "whole population" problem. In simple terms the "research" simply castigates the UK government for failing to do what the researchers said the government should do - concluding their press release with a quotation accusing the government of 'ideology' which is a bit rich considering that their anti-booze position is deeply ideological.

The 'evidence' presented isn't evidence at all - not surprising since these are the sort of researchers who ignore facts like a nearly 20% decline in alcohol consumption and a similar decline in linked issues like violent crime. Nor do these researchers recognise the enormous - and consistent - body of evidence showing that moderate drinking, far from being remotely harmful, is actually healthy (indeed healthier than abstinence).

The most egregious element of this 'evidence' is that our researchers believe that engaging in 'partnerships with the alcohol industry' is a terrible sin because that industry doesn't support the researchers temperance and prohibitionist position.

It really is time we told these supposed 'scientists' to end their evidence-light, ideological attack on drinking. An attack based on prejudice and ignorance rather than any actual facts about drinking. They are wrong about pricing, wrong about marketing and advertising, wrong about the costs and benefits of alcohol to the UK, wrong about children and drinking, and wrong about the level of alcohol-related harm. And by wrong I mean they have no evidence to support their position not just that I disagree with them.



Anonymous said...

Dear Cllr Cooke

Thank you for bringing to my attention that it is alcohol awareness week. I wasn't aware of that. Now I am, I'll be more aware of alcohol and its pleasures.

I'll drink to that.



asquith said...