Tuesday, 21 August 2012

"International evidence proves..." ....that you're probably making it up!


How often do we here this or one of its variants: "European research shows..." or "Evidence from Australia indicates..." or "Studies in America reveal.."  Often these sweeping statements are made without any referencing - I had this on twitter recently in an exchange with Stella Creasy MP who claimed that evidence from Europe supported her contention that capping lending costs leads to lower (rather than higher) incidence of illegal lending. I did ask Ms Creasy to point me to this evidence but, to date, she has failed to do this preferring instead to prattle about a legal lender sponsoring a prime time ITV game show.

However, I'm not here to have a go at Stella Creasy despite believing that her campaign against Wonga and other down market lenders is well meant but mistaken. What I'm asking is that 'campaigners' stop using evidence from foreign places without letting us doubting folk have the chance to see that evidence.

Dick Puddlecote presents a wonderful example from the Scottish government today:

"International evidence shows minimum pricing will reduce consumption and reduce alcohol-related harm"

As has been the case throughout the minimum pricing debate, the campaigners - and now the government - fail to present evidence to support their contentions about the effects of the policy. This is mostly because there isn't much of this 'international evidence' and it is mostly inconclusive or equivocal on the subject (mind you there at least is some evidence unlike in the case of  plain packs for cigarettes).

The problem, it seems to me, is that those who report on these matters - the newspapers, the broadcasters - fail time and time again to challenge, to say to Stella Creasy; "show us the evidence you speak of, where were the studies conducted, what did they show, have the been replicated". The so-called journalists never say to the spokesman of the Scottish Government; "come on laddie, you can do better than that, let's be having confirmation of that international evidence".

Perhaps (indeed I think this a likelihood) the 'campaigners' know that us doubters, faced with their confident assertion about 'international evidence' or 'studies in Europe', struggle to locate the studies. Look at the evidence from Europe says Stella. We do that, we find studies (they show German illegal lending at three times the levels in the UK - Germany has lending cost controls in the form of interest rate restrictions) and the Stella Creasys of this world say; "not that evidence, studies you know, from Europe."

Why do I think that quite often these 'campaigners' are simply making these sweeping claims knowing that no-one's going to look (other than the industry attacked who can easily be deflected with "they would say that wouldn't they"). And that there's probably some evidence somewhere that, in that equivocal academic way, can be cited in support of the campaign.

Or maybe they're just making stuff up?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is well-known that there are two types of statistics...

Those you look up
Those you make up.

I think we know which ones we're dealing with here. Sadly, most folk just accept them