Thursday, 7 April 2011

More Binge-Drinking Fiction

The excellent Straight Statistics team have calmly debunked the claim - screamed in this article at the Mail, amongst others - that the number of women exceeding government unitary alcohol guidelines has grown by a fifth in the past decade.

Regular readers here will not be surprised to find that such an assertion is exactly what we have come to expect of reporting on alcohol matters recently. Superlative crap.

This, according to statistical experts remember, is what really happened.

The source of the data is the General Lifestyle Survey, 2009. Table 2.2 is a time series for those drinking more than the recommended limits. I have extracted data for 1998 to 2009 (see Table).

This shows a slow decline from 1998 to 2006, followed by an abrupt increase which was caused by a change in methodology. The percentage of women exceeding the limit surged from 12 to 20 per cent when this new method for converting volumes of alcohol to units was applied. Since then the slow decline has resumed.

There is no evidence here that actual drinking habits have changed. It is possible the old method underestimated drinking before 2006, and the new one is better. But this data is not evidence of a rising trend: the surprise is that the author of the ONS report did not realise this.
Incompetence from a public sector organisation? Surely not.

Nor is it true, as the Daily Mail asserts, that recent figures have pointed to a surge in binge drinking among females, particularly young girls. The percentage of 16-24 year-olds who drank more than three units on any one day has declined since 1998 from 42 per cent to 37 per cent, and the percentage who drank more than six units on at least one day has barely increased, from 23 to 25 per cent.

This is before taking account of the change in methodology, which itself added five percentage points to the score. Not much evidence here of a surge in binge drinking among young women.
In short, there is not one jot of truth in the entire article, merely a load of scaremongering garbage under the hackneyed Mail "Booze Britain" tag. Oh, and accompanied by the obligatory drunk girl shot which so outrages the middle Englander psyche, natch.

It's rather tiresome to be continually pointing out the false nature of our fabled binge-drinking epidemic, when a combination of slack ONS analysis and inept journalism can convince huge sections of society that booze armageddon is just around the corner. Despite incontrovertible evidence showing quite clearly that alcohol use is consistently declining.

It was in the paper, Guv, so it must be true, innit.

Unfortunately, MPs are just as gullible as your average ex-pat Mail mouth-frother, and this particular story - and it is just that ... a fanciful fairy tale - will doubtless have them muttering that something must be done.

Oh well, I can but put these things out there in the forlorn hope that someone in power, somewhere within the ranks of our addled parliamentary funny farm, will someday wake up to hard facts and stop peddling ill-informed bullshit based on nonsense they read in the paper, or heard from the Westminster Village simpleton.

Or I could do something more productive like banging my head against the garage wall.


Anonymous said...

Slack ONS, incompetent MSM??

Thank god for that, I was starting to think that it was some kind of behaviour modification technique based on insidious, subliminal brainwashing and lies.

Thank you for the nudge back to reality.

Lysistrata said...

You are absolutely right. And an excellently written and well-presented post. Again.
But presenting the facts doesn't seem to cut any mustard.
You see, photos and reports of young women doing the sort of ordinary stuff that most young women do: like, er, chatting with their Mums, finishing an essay, washing their hair, working in a path lab, preparing the firm's year end accounts, watching a film on TV, worrying sbout the future, ... DOESN'T SELL PAPERS.


No, we need images of drunk women with knickers round their ankles. THAT'S the way to get the money in.

Honest research and truthful reporting? Oh, that's SO old-fashioned, DP. Dontcha know you have to be On Message nowadays to get anywhere?

Anonymous said...

It just got worse Dick. The BBC actually published this piece of turgid crap as headline news

It is as usual appalling rubbish and is totally politically motivated

The conclusion reads:
“These data support current political efforts to reduce or to abstain from alcohol consumption to reduce the incidence of cancer.

In other words, a bunch of politically motivated unqualified and unprincipled scumbags have secured their grant money for next year by doing nothing more than manipulating data to support whartever certain politicians want to achieve. No actual study or

original research required. The BBC is now right up there with the Daily Mail when it comes to printing utter rubbish on cancer

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why they would report like this. If someone is reporting economic numbers, then usually they use a base-line year and keep it all adjusted to take out the effects of inflation and then one can see the true effects. If they showed a jump in the year they changed the factor they used to call something a "unit", then they should have used standardized units, all as the old, or all as the new, not mix the two together in order to show their "big jump". Either first grade math or first grade science classes would have weeded this out, unless maybe that's no longer discussed in those subject matters in school anymore. And aren't most of these politicians supposed to be "educated"? What have they been doing prior to starting out their political careers - sleeping their way through schools and never studied anything?

Unknown said...

Oh the are just getting started on drinkers DP:

Drinking more than a pint of beer a day can substantially increase the risk of some cancers, research shows.

All hyped up by the BBC of course, it's relentless reporting on TV this morning nearly made my bring up my breakfast.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Yep, just seen that TBY. And the whole thing relies on the same big fat lie I wrote about yesterday. Incredible!

Found A Voice said...


You may wish to read the comments in the following article:

Hope you're well.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Dick, I trust the ONS more than most other departments.

Of course they can't put a footnote saying "These figures are bullshit but Our Political Masters told us what results they wanted to see" so they put in coded messages like "Figures not directly comparable because of updated methodology" or somesuch, which to statistics aficionados mean "These figures are bullshit".

Dick Puddlecote said...

Thanks for the link FAV. Some seriously deluded people on that thread. Very good comments from you, I see. :)