Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Meaningless news from the BBC

Scots 'drink a quarter more alcohol' than other Brits

The headline is a link to the story and I've left it in the same font as used on the BBC news site; I think it's horrible but that's not why we're here. Let's look at the story in some more detail. 
The claim in the headline talks of drinking more yet the first line is about purchasing – I’m not suggesting that it’s being poured down the drain but they aren’t synonymous. It’s also a comparison; they are buying/drinking more than someone else which need not mean it’s a problem. That I drink more than my mother is because she’s abstemious; it doesn’t say anything about my likely health outcomes. Unless we know something about the artefact used for comparison how can we know anything about our subject?

Scots like to drink at home and this is based on purchasing patterns. So what? What is it about this that makes it newsworthy? Surely they aren’t the only section of the population who have spotted the price differential between pubs and supermarkets? £4.40 will buy enough cider to exceed the government’s recommended limit of 21 units/week for a man. That’s interesting but it doesn’t mean that every Scottish man is out spending a fiver on White Lightening does it? I'm half Scots and I still find that I can pass a supermarket without falling in and grabbing a couple of litres of Woodpecker. Many people like to drink at home. It's a nice way to wind down after a day at work, it's enjoyable to have a glass of wine in the garden with a book. This report seems to suggest that drinking at home is somehow wrong and to be condemned.

Would I appear cynical if I suggested that this story is simply slack journalism which meets the simple agenda of pandering to stereotypes? It also coincides with the "nanny knows best" mentality which has gripped us for years - even the scientists involved in alcohol research agree that the 21 units/week number is plucked from the air. Are we better served by being told off repeatedly or by being treated like adults? Psychologists (and others) might be mouthing the term "transactional analysis" around about now (although some psychologists might be mumbling incoherently about a nice lunch of dim sum or some such which). I'm not suggesting that the BBC is "dumbing down" but this really is a dreadfully written report.

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