Sunday, 29 March 2009

Through a glass darkly

Yesterday I mentioned my irritation at the lazy reporting of the ESPAD project into teen drinking throughout Europe, and in particular the Manx results. See and for examples.
I also mentioned that when originally planning to cover this I was going to make reference to work I’d done in February 2008, only to discover it is one of a number of items removed from what used to be a useful website. I did that work after being the only ‘concerned citizen’ interested enough to take a day off work and sit amongst public sector professionals and amateurs from local charities and evangelical ‘community projects’ with their begging bowls for a conference at Nobles hosted by the Alcohol Advisory Service.
It would be too long and too boring to repeat the whole exercise now. The key point is that all the information released to the press as ‘new’ last week was available at that conference and even on the Manx government website (see and also for a version of the earlier 2003 report which the Manx government still has not made public. An expanded academic survey of the 2003 results, ( 'Powell J., Plant M., Steriu, A. and Miller P. (2006): "Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use among teenagers in the Isle of Man (ESPAD 2003)". Journal of Substance Use, February; 10(2):1-9.' ), can also be downloaded on Google Scholar for around £10 for anyone interested enough to look.
From there you can go on to to find the full recent ESPAD report. The national tables are close to the end, and on fuller reading do not reflect the moral panic created by Manx parties intent on dismantling the last of the professional public sector facilities available to people with alcohol-related problems and replacing them with a bargain basement private sector alternative run, quite frankly, by rank amateurs. The most shameful thing is this will happen with DHSS connivance.
In short, you can’t believe some of the guff you read in the press, and reporters really ought to know by now that when a Manx organisation with an obvious political or financial interest hands you a ready-written story it will not be the full picture. Even the professional academics at that conference, such as Professors Martin and Moira Plant from the Centre for Public Health Research at the University of the West of England, were scrupulously honest about the fact that their research was not fully objective, a certain format having been demanded in return for it being underwritten by major drinks manufacturers. The point also being that these ‘benevolent parties’ want to stop supermarkets offering their product at low prices and return to the monopoly and excessive mark-ups they used to be able to demand from pubs and restaurants.

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