Thursday, 5 November 2009

Minimising Harm

The New Zealand Ministry of Health's National Drug Policy website lists the BERL report on the costs of harmful alcohol use among its latest news and updates. Roger Kerr of the Business Roundtable emails to inform me that he's inquired of the good folks there why that report is linked without any mention of the rigorous critique it has undergone. The reply he received from MoH is hilarious.
The reason for this is that the NDP website was established under the National Drug Policy to highlight government initiatives relating to drugs. The BERL report was funded by the Ministry of Health and ACC and for that reason it has been referenced on the website. By contrast it is my understanding that the other study you mention was privately funded and would therefore not meet the criteria for this website.

Thank you for raising this matter with me.

Yours faithfully,
Barbara Phillips
Group Manager
Minimising Harm Group
Population Health Directorate

Unfortunately, I masochistically took on the review of the BERL report as part of my "critic and conscience" duties in my employment at the University of Canterbury. I suspect this doesn't meet the normal criteria for "privately funded".

More importantly, though, the presumption that only government-funded studies are unbiased is ludicrous. I have heard informal reports that consultants over Oz-side are shying away from work that might show pro-alcohol results for fear of being blacklisted by the pro-regulatory regime now there in place. Would the Department of Public Health of the University of Otago at Wellington's School of Medicine have kept getting the nice contracts were they ever to find a result that alcohol or tobacco weren't quite as bad as they'd previously thought?

It does not help healthy debate if the government only commissions studies that are designed from the outset to give one kind of result and studies funded by the folks likely to be hurt by policies flowing from such studies are automatically discounted due to funding source. In that world, only masochistic folks in universities can take on the critiquing, and even then we're labelled as privately funded anyway.

National really needs to clean house at the Ministry of Health.

Another fun findings at the NDP website: fully sixty percent of those who drank any alcohol at all last year drank enough, at least once, to get drunk! The horror!


  1. We were privately funded? Eric is there anything you want to tell me? :-)

  2. No Matt, that's the stuff he doesn't want to tell you about!!!

  3. Privately funded seems to include paying for it out of your own pocket. Interesting interpretation.