Anecdotes and Alcohol

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, tried to explain his decision to advise that alcohol for for under 15s should be prohibited by parents, by using some of the most bizarre reasoning I have heard in recent years.

Firstly he tried to debunk the arguments that many people give that a little bit of alcohol for teenagers can make teens more responsible with alcohol later on by arguing that some people, some children, some adults, cannot differentiate between right and wrong so this blurs things, then he went on to state that some people do not know what a small amount is or they don't actually seek to control or limit children's alcohol intake. In effect he was saying that because a few, the ignorant and those who don't care, fail to control their children or have children that cannot be controlled, all parents should exercise prohibition of alcohol to children. A worrying argument in itself.

Then Sir Liam tried to make the medical point about alcohol. When pressed by Nicky Campbell as to what damage a small glass of alcohol for a 14 year old would cause, Sir Liam had no real answer other than to repeat his previous argument that those who drink to excess would damage their brains. So in effect small amounts do NOT cause damage, but as with anything, large amounts might. Again, this argument was weak and does not add up.

So Nicky Campbell made the point about millions of responsible parents who give their children small amounts of alcohol and have children who do not turn out to be binge drinkers. Sir Liam's response was that anecdotal evidence about "middle class parents" was not something that a real judgment could be made on, and instead he returned to his argument about people who don't apply rules or standards for their children.

Okay, anecdotes are no way to make policy, but I think we all know someone brought up around careful alcohol use who turned out not to be an alcoholic, but Sir Liam does not care for this.

So what did Sir Liam do next to justify himself ? He used a personal anecdote about his visit to France and having a meal with a French family to make a general assumption about British children compared to French ones because of one conversation.

For goodness sake Sir Liam, don't lecture us on anecdotes being no basis on which to make policy then use an anecdote to prove your arguments are correct.

I have to say Sir Liam's whole argument was full of holes and was basically all about stopping the majority doing something responsibly because a few do not follow good advice.


Jim Jay said...

Good post

Bernard Salmon said...

I think people under 15 should be stopped from having to consume Sir Liam Donaldson's tripe. And those over 15 should only consume it in moderation, as excessive consumption could lead to an apoplectic fit.