Crampton on the $800,000 junk science research

Eric Crampton writes:

It is difficult to see what good purpose was served by this study.

The Otago people (in conjunction with Auckland’s public health group) put cameras on kids that would take snapshots every six seconds. Then they poured through the footage to see how often the cameras, and presumably the kids, saw things that Otago people have long wanted to have restricted, like ads for food they don’t like or alcohol. They counted the number of times things were seen. And then published the numbers in (at least) two separate studies expressing horror at the number and calling for bans on the things that they counted.

$800,000 of our money went on this.

Is there any number that would have been low enough? Almost certainly not.

Is there any context for the number that might assist in anyone telling whether a number is low or high? Heck no. The news story on it talks about kids being bombarded with 27 junk food ads per day. Would there be fewer than 27 ads for candy in any 80s kid’s daily bundle of comic books? I’m not the only one who remembers being bombarded with ads for Life Savers, am I?Is there any number that would have been low enough? Almost certainly not.

This was research with a pre-determined outcome. To establish a numeer that would be higher than zero, and them condemned as too high, allowing for a ban to be argued for.

I don’t think the 1989 legislation that allowed sales in supermarkets said anything like “Oh, and we totally expect that parents will cover their kids’ eyes as they go past the wine aisle, so it’s ok, but if anybody ever shows that kids might actually see what’s down the aisle, then we totally need to re-think this.”

Kids probably see alcohol at home a lot. In my home Benjamin crawls past the wine rack often so he is obviously going to become a problem drinker. The answer surely is to ban alcohol being stored in private homes, by the logic of this research.

Did they count how often the kids at home saw alcohol? Did they see their parents have a wine over dinner? Surely that has to be stopped also.

I don’t know if this is the stupidest study in the world. Otago also had that one where they recruited 13 people, mostly from Facebook, interviewed them about their smoking, then called for a ban on smoking outside of bars on the basis of those conversations.

Hard to decide which is more stupid. I think the one that costs taxpayers the most.

What would be sufficient basis for a call to ban alcohol sales at supermarkets? Strong evidence that the substantial inconvenience cost imposed on shoppers would be outweighed by reductions in external harm imposed by drinkers as result of the ban.

Exactly. That is what good research would look at and try to quantify.

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