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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Friday, 14 January 2011

It's official: hell hath truly frozen over

"Ha! Ha! Ha! Being a stock photography model is such FUN!"

Birds fall dead from the sky.  Australia sinks into the sea. Brazil disappears under an avalanche of mud.

This is truly the end of days.

Any second now, birds will fly backwards.  Dogs will howl into the sky.  Flags will hang heavy at the tops of their poles and your wallet will fill with blood.  Time will reverse, volcanos will erupt, the four horsemen will ride and everything you knew will turn into the opposite of itself.

And lo.  It's already started.

Because today, the Daily Mail publishes a positive story about beer.  Yeah, you heard me.  Good news.  About beer. In. The. Daily. Mail.

There is not one attempt to spin it negatively, distort the news, misrepresent anyone, lie, or otherwise seek to create fear and suspicion in their readers.

It seems that two Spanish scientists have done a study that confirms what people like the Beer Academy have been saying for years: moderate consumption of beer is not only not bad for you - it's positively good for you.  One pint a day (yeah, I know, but bear with), accompanying a healthy diet, reduces the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  Rather than putting weight on, in some cases it actually correlated with weight loss.

Suddenly, the Mail is saying things that the beer community have been trying to make people listen to for years, as if they were news: moderate beer consumption has the same health benefits attributed to red wine; beer is not to blame for the famous British beer belly, etc.  There's some interesting stuff about the difference between Spanish and British drinking culture, and how it's the way we drink that makes a difference.  I covered all this in Three Sheets to the Wind five years ago, but it's still nice to see someone finally sitting up and taking notice.  It's more than nice.  It's bloody wonderful.

One thing that made me laugh out loud though, because the alternative was to open a vein: in my 2010 round-up I commented upon the relentless negativity that afflicts many on the internet, noting that even when I post a blog about something really good, the first comments are without fail from people who have somehow managed to see a down side.  I speculated that even if I were to post news that great-tasting craft beer cured cancer, some of you would still be able to find a negative angle on such news.

Well get a load of the Mail page.  Here is news that is quite wonderful to behold, almost in the same territory, though not the same magnitude, as my hypothetical cancer cure story: moderate beer consumption is positively good for you.  Could anyone POSSIBLY have a problem with that?

Oh hell, yeah.

The kind of people who write on Daily Mail comment boards make you haterz out there look positively cuddly and benign.

By half ten this morning, Royston Amhplett from Bournemouth had got in there with "And yet another ploy to increase the tax revenue." Yeah, that's right, Roy! That beer lovin' government and reactionary right-wing tabloid are conspiring to trick you into drinking more beer and enjoy yourself! That's what they want you to do!

Fraz from Gosport chipped in with "Researchers never fail to ASTONISH me with thier [sic] Groundbreaking "Discoveries" Just how much are these IDIOTS costing the Nation ???!!!" Er - nothing Fraz.  If you'd actually read the piece before getting your specially green-inked keyboard out, you'd see that they're at the University of Barcelona.

Andy in Scotland moans, "If you wanna keep lapping up these fantasy stories that it's good for you, please feel free to drink as much as you like.  It's just a shame that the reality is that your lax-attitude to alcohol is costing the national health service, tax-payers and police more money than any other substance on Earth. Shame on you, drunken Britain." Well, no Andy, they were at pains to point out it's not about drinking as much as you like; it's about moderate consumption.  Hey Andy, go for a walk! In a few weeks the daffodils will be out and the little lambs will be frolicking in the fields. Go look at them for a bit.  Breathe the fresh air.  Let it go.  Smile!

Pete in the UK (no relation), actually knows more about the topic than scientists who have conducted in-depth rigorous studies into the effects of alcohol: "What absolute nonsense, DM - and you wonder why the UK has a drink problem? This apologist lie of a story is not only scientifically inaccurate, but also is just another excuse for drunks to decimate our national health service."  Yep, the scientific community and the right wing reactionary media are looking for excuses to cost the health service money all the time.  That's what they do.  Scientists wake up every morning and go, "Hmm, how can I use my big scientific brain to fuck up the NHS today?"

But top prize goes to a fella from New York who is in such denial about his relationship with alcohol and so unable to take responsibility for his own behaviour that he posted this classic: "There is a chemical additive in beer that they claim is a preservative. But in actuality it is a addictive agent [sic]. Many years earlier when I drank, a few beers did the job. Many years later 24 beers was not enough this is due to the so called preservation which is actually an addicting [sic] agent. I gave up drinking 14 years ago and never looked back."

When I have my first pint following my dry January, I'll smile and reflect upon the fact that every single day of my life, even the stressful days and the days where self-doubt moves in and squats over me like a heavy weather front, I am happier and more at peace with myself than any of these people ever are.

If I have one moan myself, it's not with the Daily Mail, the study itself, or anything like that.  It's that at the time of writing, a quick internet search revealed that the only national British newspapers to cover this story were the Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph.  The Guardian, Independent, Times, Sun and Daily Star have all ignored it.  How different it was back in November, when David Nutt produced a study that had not a shred of the scientific rigour and process this one has, that claimed alcohol was worse than heroin, and received blanket coverage.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

" David Nutt produced a study that had not a shred of the scientific rigour and process this one has" I think you should wait until you've actually read the study before you say something like this.

Pete Brown said...

And there we go!

True to form, first out of the traps- an anonymous critic.

Listen: David Nutt got some mates in a room and they sat down and arbitrarily assigned risk factors to different drugs without conducting any actual research.

These two Spanish fellas conducted a study with 1249 people.

If we're talking methodology, there's no comparison.

I do actually read stuff before I write about it, you know.

arn said...

Anonymous
read this first, then get back
http://petebrown.blogspot.com/2010/11/main-reason-professor-nutt-is-bad-for.html

Brother Logic said...

Pete - I just went out and asked 1249 people and they all said you were wrong :-). What I'm saying is that I would like to read the paper (which doesn't show up on google, nor on google scholar) and see where it was published and what the methodology before I start making knee jerk reactions.

Say what you want about Nutt's work (and we may disagree as to the notions of methodology and rigour) but at least you could see what he did, rather than get your story from that most reputable of newspapers...

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

Pete, although it makes for good copy in terms of being able to justifiably trample on these supposed 'opinions', wouldn't it just be better to filter out anyone who didn't wish to be identified.

I, for one, have quickly grown weary of 'Anonymous'. Even those who might well be on to something.

Surely, the bottom line should be 'No ID - No entry'.

It's not hard to get an online identity. It's actually much easier than it is to develop a fully functioning personality in real life.

Therefore, should we really be tolerating, humouring or even acknowledging them any more?

Greig McGill said...

Don't think we didn't spot the Godspeed sneaking in there Pete! ;)

In a fit of paradoxical irony, I was going to say by way of a blog comment that blog comments are the worst thing on the intarwebs. Then I thought about the fact that some of the biggest changes of opinion I've had in my life have come after reading the comments of others on a blog entry. Maybe it's just the age old problem that idiots are everywhere? Like commenter number 1 above...

The Beer Nut said...

If you need more inner-peace-inspiring comment board twats, may I recommend www.ifyoulikeitsomuchwhydontyougolivethere.com?

Ghost Drinker said...

Great post! Can't stop laughing at some of those comments, it always impresses me how stupid, narrow minded and ignorant some poeple can be.

Iain said...

At first glance I thought the headline meant that Pivni Filosof was endorsing Staropramen...!

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

" ... up to a pint of beer ..."

Risky. Thank goodness for the new 2/3 measure.

Ed said...

Excellent link TBN. I nearly cried I was laughing so much reading that.

First Stater said...

I need a beer.

Cheers and good health.

Ron Pattinson said...

Plus ca change and all that.

I've recently been trawling through the medical press of the 1840's (I know, my life is so exciting) and you see exactly the same. Scare stories about alcohol without any factual basis. Correspondents reacting rabidly to any suggestion that the occasional glass of beer might not lead straight to hell via the gutter.

Peter Brissenden said...

I love the fact you managed to slip a cheeky Godspeed reference in. In fact I'm off to listen to F#A#Infinity now and stroke my chin.

Brother Logic said...

This seems a more reasoned response to this study: http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2011/01/beer-diet.html

John McNally said...

I always wonder why the 'drink a glass of red wine' articles don't mention real ale. Hops are healthier than grapes, and they come from the same plant family as cannabis.

This may explain why I'm so mellow on beer, but lager just fills me with gas and gets me drunk.

I was interested that you take a dry January Pete, my drinking has reduced, but completely dry? I'm not sure?........Why?........

John
Leamington Spa

Pete Brown said...

Hi John,

It does provoke some interesting reactions. Some people are openly hostile when I tell them I have a dry Jan. Others say it proves I have a drink problem, because anyone else would simply be able to cut down.

But it's what works for me.

The more sensible reaction is that moderation is best - everything in moderation including moderation itself. But my drinking is not moderate - it's quite heavy the rest of the year. So a dry month balances it out and creates a more moderate pattern overall. Just gives my liver a much-needed rest.

It does two other things for me as well. It reassures me that I don't have a drink problem, because having made the decision that I'm going dry for a bit, I don't have any temptations or cravings at all. I show no symptoms of withdrawal. No demons. The year it gets difficult is the year I need to start worrying.

Also, it resets my tolerance. By Christmas I'm drinking quite a lot in a given session. I like the fact that after detox, I really feel the effects of alcohol again, and drink more moderately, before gradually building back up through the year. It also refreshes my palate - I really taste beer when I start drinking again.

Finally - it's not just alcohol that goes - no red meat, caffeine, wheat, dairy or refined sugar for a month. I usually lose about a stone - I need to lose much more this year - I feel more energetic, get more done, sleep better.

This year I hope to keep some good habits through the year, and be more moderate on an ongoing basis - but I say that every year!

The Beer Nut said...

Sounds like you're drinking the wrong lagers, John.

SteveF said...

I was genuinely surprised by how bad the Nutt paper was. I read Pete's piece and thought hmmm, interesting but perhaps it's a bit hyperbolic. Maybe there was more to the research than some people sat around picking stuff out of thin air. Then I read the paper. Oh dear.

As I remarked on Pete's blog at the time, there's a fundamental problem underlying the research in that comparison between alcohol and drugs is difficult because many of the problems associated with drugs stem from their illegality. More specifically, the methods and the reporting of the data is a joke. From the paper:

Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, met in a 1-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harms to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance.

Hmmmmm. Producing such semi-quantiative schemes is always going to be a bit handwavy in my view. Why not do you best to rigorously quantify something is comparisons are valid. That said, it may still be possible to get useful info from such an exercise. Not here though. That's because the very basis for these underlying scores isn't there. At least it isn't in the paper. Essentially, they are asking us to take them on face value. Hey, they may be right, but there is insufficient data in the paper to actually evaluate their claims (or replicate them - a fundamental thing in science). Very bad practice. If you look through the paper, all you find are the scores - but no rigorous basis whatsoever for them. In fact, all the basis seems to be is; some people who know stuff, sat around for a day and picked some numbers out of thin air. There should surely be some actual data to back up the scores, but I see no sign of crime figures underlying them, or medical information on the impact of a particular substance. Or all the various things you might expect to be there to provide support for their arguments. I had a look at the time for a supplementary information section but couldn't see one. Maybe they are right, but there's no way you can say so on the basis of the paper.

I would also question the weighting in the paper. For sure people getting boozed up on a friday night and contributing to crime, getting into fights etc is bad and contributes to "harm to others". But the heroin trade is a massive part of the current situation in afghanistan and the role of the taliban. In the grand scheme of things, I'm pretty sure which is more significant in terms of harm to others. Yet presumably international damage has a lesser weighting. But there's no way of telling because they don't describe their weighting methodology particularly adequately.

I also generally question the value of such a broad brush approach. Alcohol gets a reasonably high personal harm value, yet for the vast majority of people (let's say 75% if we're plucking numbers out of nowhere) does this actually apply? Perhaps i'm wrong, but does the 5 or 6 pints I drink a week have a significant health impact? If it does, then the department of health guidelines need to be revised. If it doesn't the personal score is meaningless to me and to many others. and therefore not necessarily a particularly sensible guide to policy.

To be honest, I'm shocked it was published.

Pete Brown said...

Thanks Steve - excellent analysis