Saturday 31 December 2011

2011: The ten best bits

Like all years, 2011 was mostly awful for those of us who have a fondness for liberty. However, I have managed to find ten highlights to bring you cheer as the year comes to an end.

10. EU consultation backfires

It all seemed so easy for the European Commission: quietly launch a public consultation on tobacco regulation, pack it full of responses from NGOs and fake charities and, voila!, the EU can declare huge support for plain packaging and huge opposition to lifting the ban on snus. Alas, for our penniless European masters, the NGOs barely turned up, but the public did. Result: very little support for more bans and lots of support for harm reduction policies.

Naturally, the EU disregarded the consultation and claimed to have suddenly found a bundle of supportive responses which they won't let anyone see. Ah, sweet democracy.

9. Junk scientist caught and sacked

All he wanted to do was come up with evidence to show that meat-eaters are anti-social louts, but things unravelled for "social psychologist" Diederik Stapel in October when an investigating committee found that he had "made up or manipulated data in dozens of papers over nearly a decade". The academic fraudster was finally exposed after his students noticed that his data fitted Stapel's pre-existing beliefs a little too perfectly. Sacked in disgrace, one hopes in vain that his example will act as a warning to other politically-motivated social scientists.

8. Malta gets mugged by reality

Having heard about the miraculous effect of smoking bans on heart attacks—arguably the most egregious case of systematic scientific fraud of the last ten years—the people of Malta were expecting great things when they conducted a review of hospital admissions. Alas, the country's heart attack rate had risen since the ban and they had neglected to employ a junk scientist to manipulate the figures to show otherwise.

Failing to twig that they had been tricked by the likes of Jill "let me smooth that our for you" Pell and Anna "pants on fire" Gilmore, the hapless Maltese issued the figures in a report with the unintentionally hilarious title "The Smoking Ban: The Malta Paradox".

7. BBC finally admits that drinking has been declining for years

In which the BBC admitted the truth it had been so carefully obscuring throughout the noughties.

It's difficult to open a newspaper without reading about the alcohol problems that exist in the UK. Recent headlines include "Binge drinking costs NHS billions", "Hospitals reel as drink cases soar" and "Alcohol abuse to cost NHS an extra billion"

And this week, figures from Alcohol Concern suggest the number of people being treated in hospital for alcohol misuse has more than doubled in eight years.

But behind these stories is an unexpected truth - Britons have been drinking less and less every year since 2002.

They didn't make a big deal of this admission—it featured in a little magazine article—and they made it up to their friends at the BMA by producing the most outrageously biased pro-temperance television programme of the year, but at least it was there. If we're lucky, maybe in 2012 they'll acknowledge that obesity hasn't risen since 2002 as well?

6. BMA caught pulling numbers out of the air

Of all the junk statistics that are used to justify a smoking ban in cars, the one you really don't want to cite if you're an "evidence-based" anti-smoking campaigner is the one that was debunked in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal in 2010. But when the British Medical Association earnestly informed the media that smoking in a car creates 23 times more smoke than would be found in a smoky bar, it apparently forgot that the Candian Medical Association Journal had told advocates to "stop using the 23 times more toxic factoid because there appears to be no evidence for it in the scientific literature".

The open and shut nature of the case forced the BMA to retract the silly claim. Having insisted that a single cigarette smoked in a moving vehicle with all the windows open creates 23 times more secondhand smoke than a pub full of smokers, they replaced it with the claim that ten cigarettes smoked in a stationary car with all the windows up and the ventilation off creates 11 times more smoke. Not quite the same thing, that, but it mattered not because the media had moved on and virtually no news outlets let their readers in on the cock-up.

5. Stanton Glantz roundly mocked for Smokefree Movies madness

It's always amusing when normal people suddenly become aware of deranged characters like California's mad professor Stanton A. Glantz (I can't say what the A stands for, but its an anagram of 'earholes'). In March, the paranoid mechanical engineer got himself in the news when he attacked an animated film called Rango which depicted people doing the worst thing in the world. It was true, said Glantz: "A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie." Cue hilarity from across the media and blogosphere, of which the best came from the website Filmdrunk:

Let me be very clear about something: Stanton Glantz is not a real person. He can’t be. An anti-smoking advocate named Stanton Glantz who lives in San Francisco and makes conclusory doomsday statements like “A lot of kids are going to start smoking because of this movie” sounds like something even Michael Bay would dismiss as being too on-the -nose. No, I’ll not be fooled by this.

Look, I don’t want kids smoking any more than the next guy (provided the next guy isn’t Joe Camel). But these morons who take it upon themselves to try to eradicate tobacco use from the planet one city ordinance and petition at a time need to be stopped. I’m sorry if your enjoyment of the park is lessened because Johnny Motorcycle lit up a Marlboro Light and the smell of smoke just drives you batty. But tough sh*t. I don’t like country music, but I’m not going to go out and picket every Keith Urban concert. As I said up top, I can understand banning smoking in tight, confined spaces like bars or airplanes for the health of consumers and employees. But when your argument devolves into “ALL MOVIES WITH SMOKING SHOULD BE RATED-R REGARDLESS OF CONTEXT,” then you’re no longer doing a service to your cause.

And you’re an asshole.

And I hate you.


4. Dutch government decides to treat electorate like grown ups

Wailing and gnashing of teeth were inevitable when the Dutch government decided to relax the smoking ban and slash funding of the neo-prohibitionist tobacco control outfit STIVORO.

A bunch of concerned advocates (ie. people who would be out of work if their governments also slashed tobacco control spending) wrote a tear-stained letter to The Lancet with the wonderful title 'Can the Dutch government really be abandoning smokers to their fate?' If stopping harassment and vilification is leaving people to their fate, then yes, they were.

The Dutch health minister, Edith Schippers, has said that "the state is not a nanny" and that she wants to allow "adults to decide for themselves over lifestyle decisions." Public health professionals across Europe looked at each other in bewilderment.

3. McDonalds outwits San Francisco food fascists

Bone-headed Californians decided that Happy Meals were the cause of obesity and so banned the practice of giving toys away with fast food. McDonalds duly obeyed and started selling toys separarely for ten cents while giving the proceeds to charity. The result?

Happy Meal sales haven’t slowed down, McDonald’s is making even more money, and parents are now spending an extra 10 cents per kid every time they stop by the golden arches.

Tee, and furthermore, hee.

2. Bigot crushed in Stony Stratford

Risible neurotic local councillor decides that there will be no more smoking on his watch and moves to ban people lighting up in the streets of Stony Stratford. ASH gives him their support but hundreds of more liberal-minded people flock to the town to register their disgust. Local residents disown him, the motion is rejected by 148 votes to 2 and Councillor Paul Bartlett - for it is he - may not be a councillor for much longer.

1. Alcohol Concern loses government funding

In October, there was terrible news for the nation's second least popular fake charity when the government decided that there was no need to keep shovelling hundreds of thousands of pounds at a temperance group which did nothing but slag them off. Having bit the hand that fed it once too often, Alcohol Concern was left without state-funding. Faced with the prospect of having to collect donations from the public like charities are supposed to do, its CEO, Don Shenker, immediately jumped ship. Shenker is now desperately hoping that any future employees don't Google his name.

Happy New Year.


George Speller said...

Happy new year :-)

Kristin Noll-Marsh said...

"Schippers, has said that "the state is not a nanny" and that she wants to allow "adults to decide for themselves over lifestyle decisions."

Too bad Schippers doesn't also consider e-cigarette use an "adult decision" (one that could actually help lower health risks) and actually banned their sale! Kind of nulls her kudos for me.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Quality list, Mr S. Almost enough to make one optimistic for 2012.

Hope you and yours enjoy a fantastic New Year. :)

jredheadgirl said...


..if I haven't said so already, Happy New Year to you! Your tireless work amazes me. You are a hero (ok, I've had a glass of wine, so I"m feeling a bit gushy...more to come, as I'm headed out right all of us! Keep us the good work and good luck with all of your future writings. I hope that you get all of the recognition that you deserve!

Anonymous said...

What we do not know is whether or not Shippers was deliberately torpedoed. Did she actually say that e-liquid would become defined as a drug herself, or was that statement 'issued'? Perhaps there are those who want to put her into a difficult position.