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The Return of Reefer Madness

Last week must have been a slow news week; a lot of headlines and newspaper column-inches were devoted to the shocking findings of a recent survey of women's health that apparently indicated that drinking any alcohol at all correlated with an elevated risk of cancer:

Even small amounts of alcohol increase a woman's risk of cancer" (The Guardian)"

"Drink a day increases cancer risk" (The BBC)

"Even a little alcohol ups cancer risk in women" (Reuters)

Daily drink for middle-age women cancer risk (Washington Post, syndicated)

Here's the original paper: Moderate Alcohol Intake and Cancer Incidence in Women, by various authors from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford.

Did any of the journalists who generated those scare headlines read it beyond the abstract?

Alas, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute keeps the actual text behind a paywall; which makes it hard for me to check this takedown by Junkfood Science. However, I feel the need to quote two chunks of that post (which you really ought to read):

... there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women.

The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]

In other words, women drinking as many as two drinks a day were associated with lower actual incidences of all cancers compared with the nondrinkers.

In other words, the abstract of the paper was radically at odds with the substance of the study's findings.

Surprised? Let's carry on:

... as the Washington Post noted, “officials have long worried about sending the ‘wrong message’” about drinking, even though “it’s true that studies have indicated that moderate drinking may cut the risk of heart disease and other ailments.” The newspaper went on to report:

“[Moderate drinking] is a level of consumption that generally has been found in scientific studies to be associated with a relatively low risk of harms,” said Robert Brewer of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.* “But low risk does not mean no risk.”

* The newspaper failed to disclose that Dr. Brewer is manager and director of the Alcohol Team at the CDC; serves as Principal Investigator for Alcohol-Related Disease Impact software, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and has authored numerous publications on alcohol and alcohol-related health effects.

Does this make the nature of the propaganda exercise clear enough yet?

"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."

This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business. Their contempt for science was so manifest that distortion and suppression of results that undermined a desired political objective became a routine reflex. If the science doesn't back you up, lie about it or suppress it. That administration may have been shown the door (and replaced by one that so far seems to have a pragmatic respect for facts), but the disease has spread internationally, becoming endemic wherever ideologically motivated politicians who hold their electorate in contempt find themselves seeking a stick to beat the public with.

There's an anti-alcohol backlash in progress (especially here, in Scotland); this propaganda-spun negative study is just the latest tired remix of Reefer Madness.




Charlie Journalists don't read. They get a report that x said y and then present that fact that it must be true. Any topic that is either not there own, or too far away to get first hand makes bad reporting the norm.


"Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women."

How on earth does that translate to:"Even a little alcohol ups cancer risk in women"? Am I missing the subtlety here? It seems pretty clear, from the wording, that a little alcohol 'may' help prevent the occurence of certain cancers.

Hey, lazy journos... RTFM!!!


@1, @2: the abstract says "drinking causes cancer! Booga booga!" or words to that effect.

The article is (a) written in the language called statistics, and (b) hidden behind a paywall. The devil in the details apparently contradicts the abstract, although I won't swear to it in court (not having ponied up the moolah to get my hands on the article).


That "hidden behind a paywall" obstacle is why I recently emailed my Congressperson to strenuously object to a new bill which is sneaking its way towards making research performed under US Federal grants, and therefore taxpayer dollars, the property of the researchers, not the public. This is intended to undo the policy of making all research freely available to the public the Institutes of Health decreed a few years ago. The bill is clearly intended to make the kind of obfuscation and lying Charlie points out easier.


charlie, I hope there is a copy of the article in your inbox if not I'll try to forward you it another way


I agree with your critique, but don't think it can be attributed to Bush. According to this book, people have been pulling that kind of shit with statistics on drinking for decades at least. Scientists as well as journalists - they wrote that abstract, after all.


@Maggie - possibly taken care of


"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."

Very nicely put. You aren't a professional writer for nothing!

I was struck by the remarkable resemblance between your parody of official attitudes, and the corresponding attitudes to dietary fat and meat consumption. I am currently reading Gary Taubes' astonishing book "The Diet Delusion", and Ancel Keys (the man who created that unbelievably fraudulent graph apparently correlating fat consumption with heart disease) had exactly the attitude you describe. AFAICS no scientific evidence has ever been found that (1) eating cholesterol raises your blood cholesterol; or that (2) your blood cholesterol level is in any way related to your risk of disease. Sorry, that's wrong. LOW blood cholesterol means you are in big trouble healthwise.

The Enlightenment began 300 years ago. By now we were all supposed to be better educated, thoughtful, literate, articulate, numerate, and sceptical. What went wrong?


wait, no, apparently not taken care of


Jacques, a journalist who writes "ups" instead of "raises" can hardly be expected to make great efforts of any kind. Some of these people have taken laziness to the status of an Olympic sport.


how do you eliminate 'false' possitive correlations in a 1.2M sample. How does shoe size or effection for Mama Mia effect the likelyhood of a cancer diagnosis? though I expect those with size 12 feet seldom feature in the population.


I despise the Bush administration's science practices as much or more than the next guy, but doctors and other scientists obfuscating or outright lying about the health impacts of booze well predates him, unfortunately. That is our Prohibitionist impulse speaking out, closely related to but distinct from Bush-era anti-science BS.


rosy @8
the cunningness of the web archive?
try printing to pdf…
though hopefully charlie has more than enough copies the paper now


Thanks to everyone who's volunteered to send me the paper; you can stop now!


If there's any luck Ben Goldacre (of the Guardian) will bring this up this weekend. I do enjoy his article for taking a truthy shotgun to distorted numerics and research.

A similar thing that sent my blood pressure through the roof was "Watching TV Causes Asthma in children" article recently. Which, when one read further, wasn't technically true. It wasn't TV that caused asthma - it was parents plonking Danny in front of said box and not going out/helping them be active/stuffing faces with sh*t. The asthma was due to minimal excercise.

Oh and the LHC will destroy Terra in a black hole dontcherknow?




From the articles, it looks to me like they are picking out a few types of cancer that went up with alcohol consumption, and ignoring others that went down. According to the Junkfood science article, the overall effect was that drinking anything less than 15 drinks a week was that for ALL cancers they actually had a lower incidence of cancer. But for a few subsets of cancer, there was a correlation showing an increase, which they focused on. (And of course correlation always implies causation.)


This got reported heavily in the news here too (Hong Kong).

I was in Australia quite a lot over the past few years and the "Drink is bad for you" studies are even worse there, with the standard drink being one bottle of light beer, and more than two being an apparent invitation to liver failure. (Never mind that the greatest cause of liver failure is actually Paracetamol.)


The minimum price for alcohol is interesting for the way in which a single proposal can be analysed to have opposite effects, in each case agreeing with what the proponents hope will happen.

Consider legislated minimum prices in general. The example that comes to mind is retail price maintenance for books. Here the proposal is analysed as being pro-reading. The analysis centers on the dog-eat-dog world of cut-price retailing. The big book chains undercut the local book shops, putting them out of business. The big super-markets undercut the big book chains eventually putting them out of business. Eventually you can only buy books by going to the big super-markets and choosing from a limited selection of the most profitable lines.

Transpose this to alcohol. Closing the local retailers, closing the big specialist chains, concentrating sales on a limited number of brands, available in big, out-of-town warehouses,... that sounds like a stern anti-alcohol measure. But take your time to check through the direction of cause and effect in the two different cases.

People are advocating retail price maintenance for books as pro-reading and retail price maintenance for alcohol as anti-drinking.

I think we are actually seeing regulatory capture in action. The trade always wants higher prices, so they can make fatter profits. Whatever the goals of the regulators, the trade will advance arguments that higher prices further those goals. Notice that the regulators are indifferent to the validity of the arguments presented to them.

I think we are seeing that indifference to the validity of arguements at play in the "drinking causes cancer" story. It is the line that can be used to justify regulation, so it is the line that regulators use; truth not required.


Alan: yes, that explanation does indeed make sense.


I suspect many of your reader follow badscience.net and are depressingly familiar with the way people are conducting their publicity campaigns (or "experiments" as they are often branded). I work for a University and as part of that am involved in projects relating to data curation. I can only hope we are paving the way for the death of the traditional academic journal, but currently there will be a void to fill in terms of peer review and reputation.


I think it's a little unfair to attack the study itself as negative. The study merely points out the correlation between drinking increasing amounts of alcohol and an increased cancer risk amongst drinkers.

It doesn't say alcohol is evil, in fact the figures reflect that complete abstinance is worse than drinking in moderation (albeit the figures for non-drinkers largely can't be relied upon as the statistics didn't take into account past drinking habits, only current at the time of the study).

The study is useful in that it highlights increased risk the more heavily one drinks, which is useful to know, but also useful to know is that the difference is minimal and the occasional drink is not going to harm you.

On the other hand I totally agree that the reporting of the article is not at all reflective of the findings and does indeed demonise alcohol, but that says more about the standard of reporting in general that in relation to this one study (good news is no news, it seems).


Speaking as one quite close to the people writing the alcohol policy, the minimum price proposal is based on indicators from international evidence which suggest that when you increase price, whole population consumption drops. The policy is driven by a public health agenda, much the same as recent smoking legislation. What it does not do effectively enough is cater to those who are severely dependent on alcohol. But despite cries of reefer madness, and journo interpretation of scientific papers, the policy is based on evidence and not on the 'message it sends out' unlike current drug policy.

My take on the cancer paper, as reported by the BBC was that it was one particular cancer which drinking increased the incidence of not 'drinking increases womens cancer rate'.


Charlie, thank you for posting this. I'm so sick of getting false information regarding this issue, and I like it when someone actually picks apart the headlines in a logical, sensible manner rather than simply trying to scare or shame me. It seems as though the recent coverage regarding cancer is often about how it's really all the patient's fault rather than, say, a problem resulting from systemic flaws in global healthcare, food production, or chemical manufacturing leading to an increased presence of ambient carcinogens or unavailability of necessary diagnostic services. The pattern is easier to see when we focus on women, because it's part of a larger trend toward punishing women for consuming just about anything (itself possibly a consequence of the discourse surrounding reproductive health and choice), but in general there's a spirit of "you consumed____, therefore your death is your fault." But death is not failure; everyone does it.

Am I just paranoid? Has anyone else noticed this?


shm, delinear: Why not actually read the paper? (Okay, it's behind a paywall ...)

What they found was a very weak correlation between alcohol intake and increased risk of oropharyngeal and oesophageal cancer, and liver and colorectal cancer; and a correlation between alcohol consumption and decreased risk of thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and renal cell carcinoma.

The abstract of the paper (which is strongly anti-alcohol) generated the news reporting, but bears a scanty relationship at best to the actual findings.


Anyone who doesn't want to pay the price of accessing the article online, your local library should be able to obtain a copy for about 50p.


@22, sorry to nit pick, but there is a logic problem with your post.

Drinking alcohol is enjoyable. Unproblematic consumption is a benefit of availability of alcohol. However, alcohol is dangerous. There is a significant casualty rate, with the casualties suffering grave injury. This is the cost of the availability of alcohol. The prohibitionist argument then conjoins three parts. First the costs outway the benefits. Second the costs cannot be severed from the benefits; we can only escape the costs by giving up the benefits. Third, collective decision making is required; we cannot decide individually to be T-total.

Notice that the post at 22 has costs and benefits transposed. Yes, there is evidence that when you increase the price the whole population consumption drops, but in what sense can we say that the policy is evidence based? The direct interpretation of the evidence is for a reduction in benefit. The evidence says that the policy has costs. Does the policy also confer benefits, by reducing casualities? That is not proven directly.

I don't really see how to fix the logic of the post at 22. The usual maneuver is to see consumption as a proxy for harm, and then to argue that the harm must have decreased because the benefit decreased. I find this unconvincing


And you read tabloid journalists about science - why?

Over my lifetime I have seen more badly designed and reported epidemiological studies than I care to remember. The problems are manifest from bad design, bad statistics, reporting significance instead of magnitudes, misunderstanding causation etc, etc.

While the Grauniad and its ilk might repeat the message "alcohol is bad" the industry is still advertising alcohol (in the US at least) as sexy, necessary for social interactions etc. When resveratrol was shown to turn on the Sirtuin genes associated with anti-aging, red wine (containing the compound) was being promoted as healthy, even though you would have needed to drink many bottles of wine a day to get the necessary dose (assuming it was able to get to the cells unchanged) and thus certainly damaging to your pocketbook as best.

At the end of the day, journalists who write about science need to have been educated in teh domain they are going to write about, otherwise they are just going to parrot PR pieces and he said, she said opinions from other scientists. There are some really good science journalists out there, but they aren't writing for the tabloids.


Supplemental to Alan @26: nobody asks why we drink too much. Could it have something to do with the social use of alcohol as a depressant by people who are stressed due to overwork or other social pressure?

If that's the case, then trying to stop people drinking because "alcohol is harmful" is like ramping up the penalties for lawbreaking, until we get to the hanged-for-stealing-two-loafs-of-bread extreme: "crime is bad, so we must punish it until there is no more crime" is a poor substitute for looking for the causes of crime (such as: a shortage of bread among the starving).

Alex @27: At the end of the day, journalists who write about science need to have been educated in the domain they are going to write about, otherwise they are just going to parrot PR pieces and he said, she said opinions from other scientists. Dead right. But currently it's difficult to get a job in journalism unless you've got a degree in journalism (or in something like English with a postgrad diploma in journalism on top). And this problem is particularly pronounced in the US, where journalism "degrees" seem to substitute for actual expertise (speaks the sometime tech author who had a journalism graduate as an editor/manager -- I'm not bitter, no, not fifteen years later).


I never understood these studies. Surely they know that correlation does not equal causation? And even so, correlation is mighty difficult to establish here. If we don't even understand what cancer truly is (yes, uncontrolled cell division, but what *causes* the cell programming to malfunction? Anybody's guess!) how can anyone actually, scientifically, claim this or that causes cancer or not? Science would be showing *how* alcohol may or may not cause cancer and under what circumstances. Just saying "x% of subjects had a y% chance of incidence" shows precisely nothing.


This is more interesting than another news story about Twitter.

By the way, depending on where you live, breathing may increase your risk of cancer.


cm: there is a definite, proven correlation between breathing and cancer! No question about it -- only people who breathe get cancer! Therefore if we wish to stop cancer, we must stop breathing!


@24: There are some conditions (gastritis, fer instance) that are badly aggravated by alcohol and will cause oesophageal related cancers if left unchecked. I haven't waded through the paper yet, nor am I an epidemiologist, but I do know that weak signals like that need to be looked at long and hard with the possibility that they're the shadow of some other correlation. The many studies that wrongly linked cancer and coffee are the perfect example: coffee doesn't cause cancer, but coffee drinkers are more likely to also be smokers.

Journalists and science, don't even get me started, I'm an evolutionary biologist 8-) Stopped reading even New Scientist a few years ago because it was mostly dribble. It seems like 99% of good science writing is done by scientists moonlighting.


Frankly, whenever I read journalism about anything I know even a little about, it is always plagued by mistakes, lazy assumptions, and other rubbish. Which makes me wonder why I still trust articles about areas I don't know anything about ...


As someone else who is quite close to the Scottish policy on minimum pricing, I'd echo shm's comments (I half wonder if shm is someone from my office..._ I offer no view on how effective or otherwise the policy is likely to be, but it is not being driven by the industry itself. Retailers, in particular, are actually strongly opposed...

As someone else has noted above - those who do not drink alcohol at all tend to appear to have worse health outcomes because it is a group that includes a disproportionate number of recovering alcoholics. Nonetheless, the risks of drinking in excess of the amounts recommended by Government (but below, say 50 units a week) are somewhat overplayed - though not nonexistent. The excellent Radio4 show "more or less" had a look at this a couple of years back - it's still available to listen to.



I am not mentioning California drug laws. But, from my original home State:

Albany Takes Step to Repeal Rockefeller Drug Laws
Published: March 4, 2009

ALBANY — The State Assembly on Wednesday announced that it has agreed to pass legislation to repeal much of what remains of the state’s 1970s-era drug laws.

Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller signed the drug laws that bear his name on May 8, 1973.

The proposal, scheduled to come to a floor vote late Wednesday afternoon, would be the first pivotal step in a push to dismantle the laws that tied judges’ hands and imposed mandatory prison terms for many nonviolent drug offenses....

[JVP: these were used by then state-attorney general John Mitchell, later President Richard Nixon's attorney general, to throw Timothy Leary in jail for a roach in his ashtray]


AND the (Brit) Guvmint's "Recommended safe limits" for Alchohol consumption have...

They publicly admitted this...
And they are STILL trying to limit magic-liquid consumption on the basis of these g=figures.

AND Anyone AT ALL who drinks more than their imagined "limits" is, by THEIR definition a "Binge" drinker.



There are cooperating interest groups giving us these stories. On the one hand, we have researchers needing research funding and labeling their work to sound vital to life on this planet. Then we have the cooperating press, who needs to sell newspapers and/or eyeballs more than they do to be careful.

Can one of you pro-gummint-side supporters give us two links to studies that go beyond simple causation? I mean, that's the kind of threshold properly skeptical scientists and engineers want to believe a thing solidly.

I also wouldn't mind an explanation of how "binge drinking" differs from "occasional drinking," except relabeled to sound like a horror on this earth instead of the something boring it is.


I meant, of course, to ask for two links to studies that go beyond simple CORRELATION, and NOT two links to studies that go beyond simple CAUSATION. Whoopsie!!


This is in the same vein as UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's absurd response to the "ecstasy is safer than horseriding" business a few weeks ago.

Prof David Nutt, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, had commented in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that the risks associated with ecstasy are of the same order as those associated with horseriding.

Our Home Secretary's reponse:

"For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs."

Again with the ideological prior, DRUGS=BAD, and completely ignoring empirical statistical evidence put forward by experts.

I don't know which is more disturbing:

1) Politicians genuinely think ignoring evidence and expert opinions is acceptable in order that they can maintain their ideological beliefs.

2)Politicians feel they need to behave like this in order to be elected.

{Don't know if mentioning e will get this caught in the spam filter... let's find out.}


Jon @37: Showing causation in epidemiological stuff is actually much harder than you're making it sound. There isn't usually an "A + B therefore C" system: more like "risk factor A plus risk factor B increases probably of C by 20% plus or minus five". That's the way it works, and it's a shame that's not more widely understood. Climate science suffers from the same shortfall in the general understanding.


Re binge drinking: you don't live in Australasia then, I take it. Teenagers (and people old enough to know better) dying of alcohol poisoning is many things, but boring isn't one of them.


@ Charlie post #31 - You got me there. Remind me not to try to be clever on this blog.


@ Charlie post #31 - You got me there. Remind me not to try to be clever on this blog.


My recollection is that a certin computer magazine changed greatly at around the time Charlie stopped writing for them. These days, such magazines still have the technical columns, but I don't trust them otherwise.

And it's not just the mass-market magazines, though I don't see enough to be sure. I don't even know if Doctor Dobbs Journal is still running.

Not all these things are sloppy journalism. Sometimes the market has changed, and the computer power-users are perhaps lost in the crowd.


It's nothing certain, but the pattarn of cancers reported is suggestive. The research needs to be done, but perhaps the time/concentration curve is a factor.

Stick to beer, Charlie



I believe that DDJ is still going, but went web only a couple of years ago. I can't comment on quality, as I stopped reading it when the company subscription stopped coming through the door.


ChrisL@41: the UK government's definition of "binge drinking" is more than two pints of beer, or the equivalent, in a single session. You can see why it is treated with contempt.


Anyway, Binge (Binche)is a place in BELGIUM .....
Where, IIRC they have Giants (but no Dwarves)

Probably comes from drinking too much of the local beers!


Serraphin @15

The URL for Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" website is:


It's well worth a look for the sensible truth behind these crazy journalist claims.

He also has a book too that's easy to read, and although a little scary he does a good job of keeping it humorous.



And today's tabloid alcohol health story


A COUPLE of glasses of beer or wine every day is good for your bones, scientists said yesterday.

Moderate drinking can significantly increase their mineral density.

So moder ate drinking is good for bones, good for some cancer bad for other cancer ....

I should note that this is not specifically Bushian science. The folks at MADD and the fake charity Alcohol Concern (majority of funds from HMG, prime charitable activity lobbying HMG) have been doing this kind of thing for ages,

Come to think of it you could compare this to global warming where the journos uncritically report all the activists claims that we'll melt in 20 years when the actual science is rather less clear cut and far less alarmist (and where many researchers have big problems with the correlation != causation concept)


"This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business."

I know you have a consuming hatred of the Bushies, but this sort of thing has never been limited to one side of the political spectrum.

If you want some really great bad science, look up Center for Science in the Public Interest. They get quoted in these sorts of stories ("food or drink X is bad for you") all of the time - and they make Red Ken look like a teetotaling right-winger.

Whenever I see a news headline with a food or drink scare in it, the first thing I look for is "CSPI" somewhere in the text.

They're right there in the forefront of groups wanting to restrict or eliminate alcohol consumption. And fat consumption. And sugar consumption. Food additives, preservatives, et bloody cetera...

...and President Obama is apparently going to name Caroline Smith DeWaal (from CSPI) to be the top person at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Which is frightening, and as anti-science as the worst excesses of the Bush administration.


As an aside, I found this bit particularly noteworthy: "...Dr. Brewer is manager and director of the Alcohol Team at the CDC..." Some people just have the right name for the job.


Basham and Luik
Women, keep drinking

Why was a flimsy study apparently showing a link between booze and breast cancer so uncritically accepted?

"... One can’t help but wonder just what Allen herself has been drinking in the Senior Common Room at Oxford. After all, her public pronouncements, her recommendations to government, and the reports about her study in the media are certainly not supported by her results."

"First, Allen’s study is an observational one, based on data from the UK’s Million Women Study, which is a study about the association between Hormone Replacement Therapy and cancer and heart disease. Allen’s study comes from self-reports about the drinking habits of women in that study."

"This means that the study, as an observational study – the weakest kind of epidemiological endeavour and certainly nothing close to the gold standard of a randomised controlled trial – is inherently unable to draw any causal conclusions about a link between drinking and cancer."

"Second, the study fails to meet even the most basic requirement of science – that is, being able to validate its measurements – since it is entirely based on the women’s self-reports of their recollection of their drinking. None of these reports was checked and the authors can make no claim about how reliable they are. No one knows how much or how little these women really drank since no one bothered to measure it...."


I'd like to know why the researchers let their work be put out with an abstract radically opposed to the substance of the paper; or was this something added by their research institute or funding body?


Jakob: the abstract may well have been written by the journal who published the paper, AIUI.


the journal had a small editorial about the paper as well as the paper itself, and the editorial may be more accesseble


Charlie @55

That would be unusual, although I am more used to publishing in "basic science" journals than medical journals so perhaps the procedure is different (though I doubt it). I've never had an abstract written for me and would be quite alarmed if the journal wanted to do it.


"If you drink you will die.
If you don't drink you will die.
So you might as well say "what the hell",
And raise your glasses high!

"Whatever your name
We are dying just the same,
So you might as well say "what the Hell",
And join us for a drink. HEY!"


I live in Ontario, where alcohol sales are through either a Crown Corporation, the LCBO ("Liquor Control Board of Ontario") or the Brewer's Retail, a Quango owned by the major domestic beer producers which sells beer and nothing else.

This has downsides -- booze is relatively expensive, compared to the prices paid by our American cousins or the Quebecois, and it's hard to get odd artisan alcohol that isn't produced in a stockable minimum quantity -- and upsides; the LCBO has a lot of social responsibility policy built into their operations, it's a stable career so you get people who remember who the producer of that black current brandy was 20 years ago, and quality control is excellent.

So I think it's certainly possible for a strongly regulated alcohol industry to be a net social benefit, and sensibly conducted. (I could wish they'd formally do the same thing with cannabis and tobacco, myself.)

But the devil is always in the details of the implementation, and if people can do a good job of this in a UK context I have no idea. An attitude that wanting to alter your consciousness is a sin (rather than a pretty core mammalian tendency) is not a good sign.


My comment earlier was crankier than I'm happy with - I'd had an annoying half-week - sorry about that.

I tend to feel that, in a free society, there should be a strong case before an something's regulated. There's certainly nothing here with as strong evidence as, say antimonopoly regs or the need for strong reserve limits that's decapitated banks and financial institutions, time and time again, including right now.


Drinking Wine Lowers Risk Of Barrett's Esophagus, Precursor To Nation's Fastest Growing Cancer, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (Mar. 7, 2009) — Drinking one glass of wine a day may lower the risk of Barrett's Esophagus by 56 percent, according to a new study by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in the March issue of Gastroenterology. Barrett's Esophagus is a precursor to esophageal cancer, the nation's fastest growing cancer with an incidence rate that's jumped 500 percent in the last 30 years.

Barrett's Esophagus affects 5 percent of the population and occurs when heartburn or acid reflux permanently damages the esophageal lining....


A drink of wine or single malt certainly helps my optimism... And this study focuses on women better than the reefer madness pseudoscience.

Optimists live longer and healthier lives: study
By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Optimists live longer, healthier lives than pessimists, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that may give pessimists one more reason to grumble.

Researchers at University of Pittsburgh looked at rates of death and chronic health conditions among participants of the Women's Health Initiative study, which has followed more than 100,000 women ages 50 and over since 1994.

Women who were optimistic -- those who expect good rather than bad things to happen -- were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause than pessimists and 30 percent less likely to die from heart disease after eight years of follow up in the study.

Optimists also were also less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or smoke cigarettes...


"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Time to close this thread out?


Add this to the "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" file:

Not So Sweet: Over-consumption Of Sugar Linked To Aging

ScienceDaily (Mar. 9, 2009) — We know that lifespan can be extended in animals by restricting calories such as sugar intake. Now, according to a study published in the journal PLoS Genetics, Université de Montréal scientists have discovered that it's not sugar itself that is important in this process but the ability of cells to sense its presence.


Antoine E. Roux, Alexandre Leroux, Manal A. Alaamery, Charles S. Hoffman, Pascal Chartrand, Gerardo Ferbeyre, Luis A. Rokeach. Pro-Aging Effects of Glucose Signaling through a G Protein-Coupled Glucose Receptor in Fission Yeast. PLoS Genetics, 2009; 5 (3): e1000408 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000408


I would speculate that the lower incidence of cancer among light drinkers is due to the anti-oxidant content of wine and to a lesser extent beer. Moderate drinkers may also make other sensible choices in having things in moderation. However you'd think those who choose not to drink would be the healthiest, since they may be even more sensible and prudent in other areas that contribute to health.

Personally I like to keep my liver on it's toes.


Fascinating stuff, but not wholly surprising; in fact, its very much complementary to the medical establishment/govt's alchohol-pregnancy policy. Basically, the research - and there has been a fair bit - can find pretty much zero correlation between low-to-moderate alcohol consumption and health/developmental problems in the children. In fact, a 2008 study from UCL showed slightly higher cognitive-behavioural outcomes among the 3-yr-old children of woman who drank a little, over the totally abstaining cohort.

Now correlation doesn't = causation, and the authors didn't claim anything of the sort. But you'd think that, given the strength of the 'total abstention' advice, there would be *some* evidentiary basis for it. What we have instead is a BMA statement that 'We are concerned that the findings from the UCL study may lull women into a false sense of security and give them the green light that there is no problem with drinking during pregnancy.' And a toughened-up BMA/DoH policy insisting of total abstinence.

So, we put the fear of gawd into the light-to-moderate drinkers, who appear to be doing no harm, because we're concerned they might become heavy drinkers ... which would mean (by definition) ignoring the previous advice anyway. Or, to put it another way, they worry the already worried, for no good reason, they have no discernable effect on the risk-takers, and they risk squandering what trust remains in the medical establishment by constantly crying wolf.

Well played, BMA. (If anyone's interested in more detail, I've got an article coming out on this later this year.)


The purpose of today's popular media is to get ad views. The truth does not sell; controversy and trolls do.

They win, because you linked to them, and many of your readers went to those sites.


Andrew S: They've already won -- if you're going to evaluate it in those terms -- because the newspaper sites have about two orders of magnitude more readers than I do (on a good day). From my point of view there's nothing to be gained by remaining silent, and pointing out the emperor's lack of clothing might mitigate some of the damage.


Common Genes Tied To Alcohol, Nicotine, Cocaine Addictions

A summary of chromosomal locations of peaks or intervals for addictions to alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, nicotine and opoids. Each linkage is shown with either a colour-filled circle or a rectangle, representing a reported linkage peak or region, respectively. 'Significant' or 'suggestive' linkage was determined by independent studies on at least two substances of abuse. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Virginia Health System)ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2009) — For decades, finding clues to substance addiction has been much like searching for a needle in a haystack. But researchers may finally be honing in on specific genes tied to all types of addictions - and finding that some of the same genes associated with alcohol dependence are also closely linked with addictions to nicotine, cocaine, opoids, heroin and other substances.

In a new landmark paper to be published in the April 2009 issue of Nature Reviews Genetics, addiction experts at the University of Virginia Health System and the University of Michigan present new insights into the significant progress made within the last several years in understanding the genetics of addiction....

On preview, I don't see the link. So: