Sunday 31 January 2016

Intellectual dishonesty

I came across this article on the Care2 website: If the Alcohol Industry Depends on ‘Risky’ Drinkers, Is it Time We Did More? So I decided to read it and found that there was absolutely no new information in this article that hasn't been published before many times over. The writer is Steve Williams, and when I clicked on his link, I found that he was described as a "citizen journalist", a blogger to you and me. As I wrote in a comment below the article, the writer is actually out of date in stating the weekly recommended units as 21 for men and 14 for woman, when, as we all know, they're now both 14 for both sexes.

The units were the basis of the writer's definition of risky drinking. As the units have no real science behind them, as I explain below, this means that his whole article is flawed. There are many risks in life, most of which don't get the same attention as drinking: crossing the road (again, see below), mountain climbing, sailing, pot holing, rugby, boxing, driving too fast or singing The Sash My Father Wore in a Sinn Fein pub.

I suppose I feel disappointed at the intellectual dishonesty of such articles. I have no doubt our "citizen journalist" felt he had written a balanced article, but he did not question the assumptions behind what he has quoted as facts, and he did not distinguish between coincidence and cause. The difference can be illustrated by the fact that if a drinker gets cancer, that does not automatically mean drink caused the cancer (my example, not his).

Four years ago, when the BBC quoted completely inaccurate figures in a programme about the effects of alcohol on older drinkers (the errors significantly overstated the risks and were the fault of the university researchers, not the BBC), I asked them to correct the information in a later broadcast of the programme concerned. They said they'd corrected it on the website, and my argument that most people who had seen the programme were unlikely to look at the website was dismissed. This is the TV equivalent of a newspaper publishing a story with massive headlines on the front page, only to print the subsequent retraction in small print at the bottom of column 8 on page 42. The logical conclusion is that it's okay to broadcast duff information in error and not correct it, as long as that misinformation supports the anti-alcohol campaigners' cause. I'm certain if the errors had gone the other way, the Beeb would caved in to pressure to broadcast a correction on air.

This ceased to be a mistake when they refused to correct it in the same format by which they had originally broadcast it, and thus became deliberately dishonest. For all I know, the inaccurate findings in that programme have subsequently been cited as evidence by the anti-alcohol crew.

Intellectual dishonesty: one side of this bogus debate is riddled with it.

If you're interested, this was the rest of my comment to the Care2 article, some of it derived from a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago:

Several years ago, one of the scientists on the team that dreamt up the 21 and 14 limits admitted that the figures were more or less plucked out of the air. He wasn't suggesting drinking was a risk-free activity (only a fool would do that); he was simply stating there wasn't any real science behind them.

When recently introducing the new limits, the Chief Medical Officer for England (CMO) stated that every year, over 20,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer caused by drinking alcohol, adding that excessive drinking can cause other health problems too. 20,000 seems a very precise figure to me, and even if a cancer sufferer does drink, that does not mean that the cancer was caused by the drink. Proving the cause of a medical condition in this way isn't always as clear cut as the CMO was trying to suggest.

While a diagnosis of cancer is always a serious matter, it is worth pointing o
ut that statistically you are 25% more likely to be knocked down when crossing the road [than get cancer through drinking].

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