Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Plain Packs Consultation Bias Busted Wide Open

Earlier today, Guido published a report on what we jewel robbers already know. That being the disgraceful shenanigans behind the scenes of the government's consultation on plain packaging.
Setting up a policy consultation that doesn’t actually do any proper consulting seems to be a growing theme under Dave. A report by Rupert Darwall, the policy wonk who helped expose the Civil Service foul up over the Virgin West Coast train franchise, has laid into the Department of Health’s consultation on plain packaging. Darwall’s report finds:
- The consultation was deliberately framed to garner support for plain packaging, presenting policy-makers with a loaded question.
- Questionable evidence: no causal link between packaging and smoking.
- Department of Health admitted the consultation was biased but has done nothing about it.
- Consultation does not consider negative impacts such as reducing barriers to illegal tobacco.
- Overall the consultation creates a misleading impression that plain packaging will cut smoking.
You can read it in full here - it is pretty devastating.

Of course, already those who should be breaking this kind of grubby abuse of democracy are doing their utmost to avoid reading it.

Wintour, you may remember, is the journo who unveiled the story about how plain packs are scheduled for the Queen's Speech, before Cameron denied it. I suggest he may be somewhat compromised as an unbiased commentator, whaddya reckon?

It's the same old debate-avoidance mechanism as usual, except that there is a wealth of real dirt in this report, some of which I have already written about. Consider this para from the executive summary, for example (click to enlarge).

I recognise this bit ...
Bias enters the consultation through the DH's reliance for its evidence base on a narrative synthesis of research papers (the Stirling University review) selected and commented on by researchers, two of whom are self-declared advocates of plain packaging;
... because I commented as such back in May last year.
The first thing you might notice if you do a word search on it is that the lead author, Crawford Moodie, is referenced 80 times in all in the review. This is because it is mostly a collection of studies conducted by the people who wrote the bloody thing. Studies either authored or co-authored by fellow lead names Linda Bauld, Ann McNeil, Kathryn Angus and Gerard Hastings, are also quoted as sources of *cough* independent research. 
As far as I can see, out of the 37 studies cherry-picked selected by the report's authors, 16 were written or co-written by those who compiled the evidence review on which Lansley's department is relying for information. 
If such woeful bias is allowable for something as important as a systematic evidence review, I think I'll have to pitch for my own slice of the easy money. I can find 37 articles saying the whole idea is crap. OK, so 16 were written by me and my mates, but what the hell? It's 'science', innit.
The Darwall report also hints at more manipulation that I seem to remember chatting about.
And the DH's subjective elicitation exercise, in which selected experts are asked their opinions on the quantified effect of what the policy might be. Even though the DH considered impartiality impracticable with respect to the last, it refuses to disclose each individual expert's name, what they said and what their interests are.  
Yep, if I'm not mistaken, that was covered here too, also in May.
Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but this would seem to suggest that the 'experts' to be appointed for this purpose will all be people paid to come up with tobacco control policies ... like plain packaging. 
The tract admits that there's no way they will be impartial, and that many will have a personal stake in seeing one side of the argument prevail over the other. However, the civil service doesn't seem to envisage any problem with this. 
It's like handing control of the Leveson Inquiry to an associate of Rebekah Brooks, or even Rebekah Brooks herself with James Murdoch as a fellow panel member. Or Alex Ferguson appointing four members of the Manchester United Supporters Club to be officials for an important Champions League fixture. 
In the scenario above, it's not inconceivable that the 'experts' recruited to offer 'subjective' judgements on plain packaging could include Simon Chapman, Linda Bauld and Stanton Glantz! 
This is what passes for democratic process in this wonderful free country of ours.
Now, those who seem happy to allow their cult-like advocacy over-ride the principles of democratic process can squeal as much as they like about funding, but it still doesn't hide a couple of very important points.

The author has been proven to be more able than government to spot gaping flaws in their procedures - as the West Coast mainline fiasco illustrated publicly and unequivocally - and secondly, that what he says would appear to be 100% demonstrably true so far.

Even a glorified hairy-arse trucker like me can see that, so why can't the Department of Health and a fair chunk of Fleet Street/Wapping?

I reckon I'll be returning to this research quite often in coming days and weeks, there's tons more damning stuff, believe you me!


Ivan D said...

For decades now, we have tolerated the likes of Wintour helping the likes of Hastings and Glantz get away with completely unacceptable behaviour on the basis that anyone who raises a voice in opposition to the healthist cult must be influenced by the vested interests of "big" tobacco thus making their arguments intrinsically invalid. If the report creates a coherent case to be answered then the DH, the healthists and their supporters should answer it. It is high time that this immature form of censorship was ended. The vested political and personal financial interests of tobacco control zealots and their journalistic supporters make them no more objective than tobacco company executives. Arguably they are even less objective as the average tobacco company executive would be fired for being caught trying to cheat a public consultation whereas healthists are awarded OBEs despite being blatantly guilty of doing just that. It is time that they paid the price for their dishonesty. The public health gravy train needs to be derailed before it does any more damage to our society and our institutions. No doubt Wintour and his cronies would vent their spleen but fewer and fewer people actually read their sad excuse for a newspaper so who cares?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Indeed. Check out late commenter at Guido's (#91) who seems repeatedly incapable of rebutting the study.


Ivan D said...

I am sure that Phillip Morris employees are not entirely objective but neither are the healthists. They simply claim that they are and insult the work of honest researchers in the process.

As you rightly point out, we should be judging reports on their content If we applied that simple criterion to public health industry output we would have re-invested in something more useful and more honest years ago.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Agreed. It must be pointed out, though, that this wasn't written by Phillip Morris, merely commissioned by them. It was written by a guy who has already shown himself to be rigorous with facts so much as to have comprehensively embarrassed government in the recent past.

No wonder, then, that anti-smokers are rushing to stick their fingers in their ears and hope the nasty man goes away. ;)

Mandy Vincent said...

Lying scumbags comes to mind, my friend is trying to find out why her 90 year old Mother has a medication list with nicotine patches and statins on it. She has not had a cigarette for over five years and she is thin as a rake, I am fuming. When we hear shite about how bad nicotine is (smokers know differant) and then how good it is for memory, that is what I think it the patches are being used for. I cannot possibly see what else she is on them for, the implications if I am right is pure bloody evil.

Ivan D said...

I completely agree. Darwall deserves to be read and listened to. If our politicians had any respect for fairness, transparency and public accountability Philip Morris would not have commissioned any report because an objective check by someone of his calibre would have been built into the consultation process. Any competent objective observer would have uncovered the flaws that Darwall exposes.

Lyn said...

Lies, lies and more lies, just what we have come to expect from our 'government' and those that they fund and cow tow to!

It made me laugh last week when on Radio 2 they were discussing the business about news paper regulations and one thing said was that government (DC, I believe) does not feel that making a law would be right as this would be micromanagement of the industry and this would not be good.

Perhaps he would then consider butting out of the lives of individuals on the same bloody basis!

As for smoking being harmful to users and others, has anyone stopped to think how much more dangerous it is to stand by your vehicle when filling it with diesel? It is certainly more likely to kill you than any amount of smoking or any number of whiffs of tobacco smoke!

It is about time those who are paid to serve us should HAVE to have at least a few years living in the REAL world before they are allowed to become politicians, instead of these morons born with silver spoons lording it over us.

timbone said...

Patrick WIntour said "...in a report commissioned by a firm called Philip Morris International". My reply to that is simple. It could have been commissioned by the devil himself for all I care, facts are facts!