Thursday 14 November 2019

The bottomless 'public health' money pit

The IEA has a new report out about money being squandered overseas on 'public health' nonsense. I'll discuss it tomorrow, but today let's concentrate on the millions that are being spaffed up the wall in the UK.

In May, I discussed the ludicrously named Shaping Public hEalth poliCies To Reduce ineqUalities and harM (SPECTRUM) funded to the tune of £5.9 million courtesy of the taxpayer via the UK Prevention Research Partnership. The usual snouts were in the trough...

The list of SPECTRUM's 'co-investigators' features some other familiar faces, including John Britton (director of UKCTAS), Alan Brennan (Sheffield University fantasy modeller), Anna Gilmore (Tobacco Tactics conspiracy theorist) and Mark Petticrew (anti-alcohol crank), plus two senior staff from Public Health England.

The organisation has a 'principal focus on tobacco and alcohol' and its 'partners' include Ian Gilmore's Alcohol Health Alliance and Deborah Arnott's Smokefree Coalition, so expect the usual policy-based evidence, risible computer modelling, confirmation bias, junk economics, conspiracy theories and 'desk bound research' (ie. trawling Twitter for imaginary bots).

The UK Prevention Research Partnership has over £50 million of our money to spend and the elite of the 'public health' racket haven't wasted any time getting their hands on it. Yesterday saw the launch of a very similar organisation with a vaguely sinister name, also funded by the UKPRP, called Systems science In Public Health and health Economics Research (SIPHER).

SIPHER will be run by Petra Meier, who is part of the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group best known for shoddy minimum pricing modelling and fiddling the figures to revise the alcohol guidelines. No bad deed goes unrewarded in this racket and so, rather than being shunned by government and the academy, SARG is now rolling in money, including a wedge of cash for turning their silly model towards tobacco taxation.

Everything has gone to plan for Meier, who had 'no clue whatsoever about alcohol policy' when she started working in the field and openly admits that she was just following the money:

My foray into the alcohol world started with taking up a lectureship at the University of Sheffield. Not that anyone there was doing alcohol research at the time, but I was suddenly in a very research-active environment, and there was an expectation that we would identify a niche and quickly bring in grants. My previous research had focused on illicit drug use, but it seemed there were far more opportunities in alcohol research.

My new department was full of systematic reviewers and health economists, so we tried our luck and got funding for a project reviewing and modelling alcohol pricing and promotion policies.

Having literally no clue whatsoever about alcohol policy in the United Kingdom, or elsewhere, I remember how a colleague and I, desperate for some expert input, trawled the web and kept finding the names ‘Robin Room’ and ‘Tim Stockwell’. We fired off a couple of emails and a day later both Robin and Tim had agreed to help, sent copious amounts of relevant reading material, and invited me to come to the next Kettil Bruun Society conference due to start a few weeks later. Once there, Robin and Tim made a real effort to introduce me to all the lovely folk in the field, and with it being such a friendly and supportive scientific community I decided to make it my ‘home’ and build up alcohol research at Sheffield.

Now she has landed £4.9 million for SIPHER. What will SIPHER do? Its website doesn't go into specifics but it mentions 'health inequalities' quite a bit, which seems to be the key to unlocking taxpayers' money. Meier says that it 'our research will aim to create the evidence base to underpin health in all policies efforts by local, regional and national governments.' 

Fortunately, they already know which policies they want the government to introduce so that should make the job easier, and she has pulled together a familiar set of faces to 'create the evidence'. The team includes:

Petra Meier (SARG)
Robin Purhouse (SARG)
Lucy Gavens (ex-SARG)
John Brazier (Sheffield University)
Alan Brennan (SARG)
Liddy Goyder (Sheffield University)
John Holmes (SARG)
Visakan Kadirkamanathan (Sheffield University)
Suzy Paisley (Sheffield University)
Mark Strong (Sheffield University)
Liz Such (Sheffield University)
Aki Tsuchiya (Sheffield University)
Craig Watkins (Sheffield University)
Cheryl Stirr (Sheffield University)

To be fair, not everybody is from Sheffield University. There is also Greg Fell, Sheffield's low IQ Director of Public Health, a few people from government, three from Leeds University and one each from the universities of Manchester, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Newcastle.

I think the phrase I'm looking for is 'drain the swamp'.

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