Friday, 22 June 2018

Moving the goalposts

I am always intrigued to hear “public health” labelling any research paid for by the alcohol industry as “tainted by commercial interests”. What kind of naivety is it that causes people to believe money is the only source of corruption? Do these people think there’s an endless supply of benevolent millionaires willing to fund research into issues they have no opinion on? The fact is, funding has to come from somewhere and research should be judged on its own merits, regardless of who funds it. 

So it is regrettable, in my opinion, that a large-scale research project in the US into the health outcomes of moderate drinking has been abandoned because Big Alcohol was jointly funding this research along with a large dollop of public money. And who was objecting? The usual suspects – so-called “public health” bodies and taxpayer-funded temperance charities whose ideological bias taints their thinking and just about every piece of research they’ve ever produced. Is it a coincidence the voluminous research funded by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, for example, has failed to produce a single piece of work, ever, with anything positive to say about beverage alcohol? Yet this organisation regularly receives money from the World Health Organisation and the UN to fund its “scientific research”.

What methods do the Big Public Health ideologues use to pursue their objectives and skew research and public debate? Moving the goalposts is the preferred method of choice and there are numerous examples. In June 1998, 25 million Americans suddenly became overweight. Previously the official threshold for being overweight was a body mass index (BMI) of 27. Your average American at this time had a BMI of 26. On 17 July 1998, the government lowered the BMI threshold to 25 and almost one in ten adults in the US became part of a new obesity “epidemic” overnight. Subsequent research has proved a BMI of 27 is optimal for health, while so-called overweight people, as opposed to obese people, actually live longer than those of a supposed healthy weight. 

Then there is the drive to reduce sugar consumption. It’s all about “saving the children”. Children are currently consuming twice their daily recommended limit of five grams of sugar. However, three years ago the guideline was halved from ten grams to five and all of a sudden this moving of the goalposts doubled the number of kids at risk! But at risk of what? Five grams of sugar is roughly 100 calories. The recommended guideline for calorie consumption for a growing 11-year-old is 2,000 calories a day. Does it really matter whether 100 or 200 of those calories come from sugar as opposed to some other source?

In 2014, new drug Selincro was approved in the UK for treatment of “mild alcoholism”, a previously unknown medical condition that used to be called “moderate drinking”. Subsequent research has proved this drug to have no medical efficacy whatsoever when compared with the results of blind trials involving placebos. 

In the examples I have given above, if you want to find a “baddie” look no further than the pharmaceutical industry, which vigorously promotes diet pills and treatments for newly invented illnesses.

My favourite, of course, has to be the scientifically unjustified lowering of the low-risk alcohol guidelines in January 2016. This created hundreds of thousands of hazardous drinkers overnight and provided new impetus for the temperance lobby and its sock-puppet charities such as Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Focus Scotland – just when alcohol consumption, binge-drinking and under-age drinking were all declining and the percentage of teetotallers was growing – particularly among the young.

Does money corrupt research and policy-making? Not nearly as much as ideological bias