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!