Wednesday 8 January 2014

The Laughable Delusion Of Sarah Wollaston MP

Apparently, the government shelving minimum alcohol pricing is not because it's a ridiculous idea; is deeply unpopular across party voter preferences; would effectively tax the poor; and is backed by the worst junk science imaginable. No, according to Sarah Wollaston MP, it is a conspiracy, no less, facilitated by hiding crucial data.
Why on earth then did Sheffield University agree to delay the publication of the important research which so clearly set out that a ban on below-cost selling of alcohol would have a meaningless impact compared with a modest minimum price of 45p per unit? Why for that matter were they asked to do so in the first place?
It comes on a day when, coincidentally, a load of alcohol prohibitionists wrote a letter to the same newspaper condemning the government's "deplorable practices". And, you know, I think she was fully aware of that and was helping to create an angry smoke screen.

It's the usual desperate stuff from public health bullies. File junk science and hope politicians will roll over but, if they don't, resort to plan B and accuse them of being a shill for Big [insert popular consumer industry here].

The result has been a cacophony of ignorance from gulled newspaper journos and the faux outraged on Twitter. Predictably, the Bad Science guy again lined up to defend the honour of, err, bad scientists.

Why Goldacre would want to identify himself with government-funded junk science designed exclusively to promote a particular policy is anyone's guess. I thought he didn't like that sort of corruption of data for a pre-conceived ends, as described by licensing law expert Stephen McGowan in 2009 and again in 2012.
The Government seeks to implement policy based on facts; but the Sheffield research is not positivism or empiricism, it is speculation.  It is also a re-hash of their previous statements commissioned by Westminster and published in December 2008. I have some difficulty with Holyrood’s decision to instruct Sheffield University when they already knew what the results were going to be. 
The results of the Sheffield research are, after all, a totem carved from conjecture and guesswork (something which the authors of the report have themselves point out).
But then, I don't understand Wollaston's gripe either. You see, she knows very well that the Sheffield 'research' was available - yes, open access - for years before July 2013. I know this because I read it in full at the start of 2012.

What she is now complaining about is the delayed publication of these updated figures. I don't see why seeing as they were far less compelling than the nonsense the Home Office were already aware of.
2009: 45p minimum price would cut consumption by 4.3%
2013: 45p minimum price would cut consumption by 1.6% 
2009: It would save 344 lives in year 1 and 2,040 lives a year by year 10
2013: It would save 123 lives in year 1 and 624 lives a year by year 10 
2009: Alcohol admissions would be down by 66,200
2013: Alcohol admissions would be down by 23,700 
2009: Year one direct health savings of £58.6m and cumulative ten year saving of £1,074m
2013: Year one direct health savings of £25.3m and cumulative ten year saving of £417.2m 
2009: Total societal value of harm reduction £6.6bn
2013: Total societal value of harm reduction £3.4bn
The Sheffield University report was, in itself, already policy-led rubbish, but when a BBC Panorama episode had to be pulled from iPlayer last year, the incompetence of the temperance lobby's lead researchers was laid brutally open to ridicule.
The School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield has confirmed to Panorama that unfortunately, due to human error, figures they produced specifically for the programme Old, Drunk and Disorderly?  broadcast on 10th September 2012 were incorrect.  The figures are in fact 4-5 times lower than those originally given to Panorama. The University emphasised the human error was wholly on their part and has apologised unreservedly to the BBC.
Then came the news that the level of reduction in consumption predicted by Sheffield is being exceeded by the drinks industry's responsibility deal without any need for regulation.

Support from public health's usual stalwarts then dried up as Left Foot Forward took the unusual step of agreeing with Boris Johnson that evidence for minimum pricing is a nonsense, quickly followed by the lefty New Statesman agreeing that it is a fact that it would have "a disproportionate effect on the poorest".

As if that wasn't enough, Sheffield were then forced to revise their predictions embarrassingly downward and spirit the previous guff - which the Home Office had access to for around four years - off the internet.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'd say the government probably took all that into account and decided that they couldn't propose a policy based on deliberately contrived fake science; written by a university team which has been proven to be woefully incompetent; which has already been rendered irrelevant by intervening events; which is most likely illegal under EU law; and which will undoubtedly tie up taxpayer cash in straitened times defending damages claims from justifiably aggrieved legal businesses.

It is astonishingly delusional of Wollaston to believe anything else. But then she's not averse to talking arse-biscuits in parliament too when she feels like it, so what else is new.

Wollaston pretends to be a Tory, but if you want to know what a real one looks like do read our esteemed mascot giving her a kicking on minimum pricing here, here and here.


Peem Birrell said...

Another case of the emperor's new clothes syndrome:

From European Journal of Public Health

Perspectives on econometric modelling to inform policy: a UK qualitative case study of minimum unit pricing of alcohol

Civil Servant: So, yeah, trying to explain modelling and, you know, elasticities and all of that, I mean, I find it difficult to get my head around that, so, you know, not surprising that that's quite a difficult thing to explain to the public, media, you know, committee, especially when people don't necessarily want to believe it either, you know? […] but I guess it's like all of these things that, you know, we're not very good, we're not very literate with uncertainties and, you know, like we always say about risk, you know, people find it really hard to get their head round …

Xopher said...

I woke this morning to a news programme with a doctor/representative/prohibitionist condemning the nasty alcohol industry for unfair access to Government and the 'u-turn' on minimum pricing. Apparently they had made a FoI request about meetings and were calling foul whilst ignoring the their own nice everyday access to the DoH.
Sounds just like ASH!

John M said...

And lets not forget the anti alcohol zealots pumped thier press release full of figures on how many meetings thier opponants had with the Government during the consultation period of the bill, whilst conveniently omitting how many meetings they and thier chums had with the same Government

Strange that... nothing like a bit of spin is there.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

They're following the same template, it seems to work with a bovine public sadly.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

It's the prohibitionist stock response - they disagree so they must have been paid. It's disappointing that the public can't see through this and it will eventually lead to alcohol being as verboten as tobacco unless there is a viral enlightenment to the tactics. I'm not optimistic.

Ivan D said...

Ben Goldacre is incredibly selective with respect to what he considers bad science. Like many medics pretending to be scientists, he is ideologically driven. Neither he nor Wollaston can have actually read or analyzed the utter nonsense produced at our expense by the Sheffield people. At least I hope they haven't, because if they have and are still supportive that would make them dishonest and /or stupid rather than simply blinded by healthist dogma

Ex deep blue said...

Who the hell is this tormented Tory tart ,Woolaston,what the hell is she
doing ,prancing about like some puritanical,levelling Fabian Trot.
Just what is the state of the Tories with this sort of Quaker dronette
parading their miseries,their angst on the less well off elements of society.
Its bad enough with the perverted Lib-Dem albatoss around the Tory neck
without harbouring "pretend Tory"part time quacks who panders to the
fringe constituencies where the local yokels dwell light years from reality.
Another one who jumped on board the "must have wimmin in Westminster"
bandwagon regardless of ability and experience.
50 years a tory,,,ta ra

V Hale said...

Yes, he's very skeptical and demands the best possible evidence at all times, cutting through junk science like a knife, pointing out its flaws.
Unless it's about second hand smoke, plain packs, minimum alcohol pricing, global warming or any other big government pet projects.

V Hale said...

"...perverted Lib Dem albatross" - brilliant

alan_t said...

What's the odds Dr Woolaston will try to avoid going through the Open Primary process that selected her in 2010 in the run up to the 2015 election, and instead stand as an incumbent?