by Dick Puddlecote
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.
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.