Saturday 24 March 2018

Faith-based policy

Nice to see The Sun pick up on the story first broken here a few weeks ago about the sugar tax evaluation...

Academic charged with assessing Sugar Tax ‘told by God to push for it’

A top academic hired by the Government to judge the success of the Sugar Tax claims GOD asked him to push for the soft drinks levy.

Furious campaigners hit out last night over a blog where Professor Rev. Mike Rayner said the Almighty was “calling me to work towards the introduction of soft drink taxes in this country”.

He has also previously published papers claiming a levy pushing up the price of popular fizz will cut obesity.

I have made a complaint to the National Institute for Health Research (via its website - scroll to the bottom), part of which is quoted in The Sun article. In full, I wrote:

‘Last year the NIHR commissioned Mike Rayner and others to conduct the 'Evaluation of the health impacts of the UK Treasury Soft Drinks Industry Levy'. Rayner is on the record saying: 'You may not believe that I have heard God aright but I think God is calling me to work towards the introduction of soft-drink taxes in this country'.

Given that he believes that the sugar levy has the support of the Almighty, and that he (Rayner) has previously published research which predicts that taxing soft drinks will reduce the obesity rate, it is surely inappropriate for him to be given the job of evaluating its effects.

Several of the other people on the evaluation team have also advocated for the levy's introduction and have published research which concludes that it will have positive effects. Even if we leave aside the Reverend Rayner's religious beliefs, it cannot be right for people who have advocated for the levy, and whose reputation rests, in part, on it having the predicted effect, to be given the job of marking their own homework. It is a glaring conflict of interest and should never have happened. Impartial academics should be given the commission instead.’

As I said in my original post, I don't see Rayner's religious beliefs as being any more of a conflict of interest than the equally strong, albeit secular, pro-sugar tax beliefs of his colleagues who have campaigned for it. They are all emotionally invested in it and are desperate for it to be seen to work. Those who have published studies claiming that it will work, including Rayner, are professionally invested in it. They should not be anywhere near the evaluation.

Nevertheless, Rayner's conflict of interest is unusual and, let's face it, funny. I am no theologian, but if God doesn't want people to consume fizzy drinks, surely they are easier ways for him to achieve this than by acting through Mike Rayner to get a modest excise tax than has achieved nothing whatsoever in other countries?

Approached yesterday Professor Rayner told The Sun the panel would evaluate the tax on its merits. He said: “We can always change our minds. The things I said 10 years or so ago are things I said 10 years ago.”

Does this also apply to things that God said six years ago, I wonder?


There is also a rather wonderful editorial in The Sun...

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola are continuing with their radical policy of running a business by not pissing your customers off. It could just work!

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