More Bad Science?

It seems this is the week for nonsense “science” being thrown about by people who really should know better. This latest instalment may not be bad science, there are lots of fallacies which may well apply, but I will leave that up to you to judge.

Here in the sunny green and pleasant land of the UK, the TV and Radio were carrying a news bulletin, which has been picked up in the print press today, which explained that a Charity (Alcohol Concern) was calling for the Government to ban children under the age of 15 drinking alcohol at home. Seriously. Alcohol Concern are concerned [puns always intended] that a Government report shows the number of 11 – 13 year olds who “binge drink” has increased dramatically (I do not know what the figures for this are, sorry).

Depending on which news / radio station you caught this on, the feedback was mixed. In some of the “older listener” channels, there was applause at such good suggestions and heartfelt condemnation of “today’s youth” who are all alcoholic rebels, unlike any other time in the past… On the “younger listener” stations this was met with outrage and shock anyone would be daft enough to suggest it.

Fortunately, and somewhat unusually, the Government appear to have the “voice of reason” dealing with this, and the Public Health Minister (Ms Caroline Flint) quite rightly pointed out that any such law would be unenforceable. How, for one second, the Charity could have thought that a law like this would do anything is beyond me. Were they anticipating Police Officers visiting every house (with under 15 year olds) in the country, every few hours to check the drink stocks? (Although I think if this was the only hurdle, the government would have jumped at the chance… Damn those Civil Liberties!)

More importantly, what insane line of reasoning made the Charity think this sort of thing would actually reduce 11 – 13-year-old children “binge drinking?” Is there any research to support this claim? I conducted a brief bit of research on Athens today and, so far, I have found nothing which supports this, so I would love it if anyone has some they could share with me.

I actually think that no one in the Charity has ever had contact with a child, let alone an 11 – 13 year old one. It is possible to find studies which show that prohibition results in excessive usage of what ever was prohibited. This is certainly true in the case of children. Surely the concept that introducing children to “social drinking” and restraint as part of the family unit is always going to be more successful at stopping them binge drinking, than creating a “mystique” about alcohol and turning it into a right of passage.

Interestingly, often buried at the bottom of the articles, the Charity also espouses cracking down on shops who sell to under-age drinkers. It strikes me as a reasonable assumption that 11 – 13 year old binge drinkers are not drinking with their family unit (or if they are, there are more deep seated problems than the alcohol alone). This means they are, in the time honoured tradition of the British youth, getting it from unscrupulous off-licences and shops who are willing to sell alcohol to anyone. There is already legislation in place to deal with this, and if there is a genuine concern (rather than a moral panic), this is something which could be subjected to greater enforcement.

Personally, I am fairly sure this is a somewhat cynical attempt by a previously obscure charity to get mountains of media coverage and “raise awareness” of their existence. No one in their right mind would pass such legislation, and there is no reason to think it would even come close to achieving the goals stated.

But it certainly got people talking about the charity and the problem…