Slightly missing the point here George

Monbiot is complaining about the IEA being tobacco funded which leads to the head of the IEA stating this on the radio:

Here’s what Mark Littlewood said on the Today programme: “The evidence out of Australia, who, in their extreme unwisdom in my view, have offered to be the guinea pigs for planet earth on whether this policy works, having had plain packaging or standardised packaging in place for a year over there, the early evidence suggests no change at all on smoking prevalence. And, lo and behold, the black market in cigarettes has jumped markedly.”

George rejects this because of who is saying it. But the important point is actually whether it is true or not.

And of course it is true. No matter who says it or how they’re funded.

It’s all rather Soviet really, similar to that idea that only those with the proper proletarian background could produce art or philosophy or politics……

George also has a pop at ASI funding and just to make it clear I have absolutely no idea at all where such funding comes from. Not a clue.

13 thoughts on “Slightly missing the point here George”

  1. Interesting little trick Georgieporgy plays there:

    “Both the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute have been funded by tobacco firms for years.”

    And Georgie does go on to show a link between the IEA & big evil tobacco. But all he says about the ASI is they don’t reveal their funding sources. So he’s presenting absolutely no evidence for the above statement.

  2. Weird. It’s almost like alternative energy firms financing green think tanks, which would never happen; as we know, green think tanks are funded by people who actively disagree with them.

  3. Of course if the ecofascists were in any slightest way honest they would be 10s of thousands of times more sceptical of anything the ecofascists say because they are funded at least 10s of thousands of times better by the state.

    For example Wm Connolley, commenting above, is paid by a US government funded institution to troll the blogsphere and to rewrite Wikipedia climate articles to remove any hint of scepticism.

    Presumably he has publicly condemned himself as corrupt & untrustworthy for taking the money.

  4. the early evidence suggests no change at all on smoking prevalence

    That depends on what you mean by “suggests”. The early evidence is one online survey commissioned by Philip Morris, which showed a slight, statistically insignificant, reduction in smoking between autumn 2012 and July 2013 (in the context of an existing downward trend). The report rightly concludes that “the data does not demonstrate that there has been a change in smoking prevalence…” But, for the sample size used, it would have had to have found a reduction of smoking by at least 1.2% arithmetic to have reported it as significant. Did anyone expect such a large change in a few months?

    And, generally, statistical surveys are worthless unless we know that the results will be published whatever they are.

    Offhand, I would expect off-putting packaging to have more effect on potential smokers than existing smokers. So I would expect the change in numbers to be gradual as fewer people take up smoking.

  5. So George dismisses the data he doesn’t like; well there’s now an explanation for that:

    To what degree do our personal opinions cloud our judgement? Yale University researchers have attempted to detect and measure how our political beliefs affect our ability to make rational decisions. The study suggests that our ability to do maths plummets when we’re looking at data which clashes with our worldview. Ruth Alexander and Ben Carter consider Professor Dan Kahan’s findings.

    I know Tim doesn’t listen to podcasts so here’s the original paper.

  6. Paul,

    Bear in mind that most of the research is poor quality. For instance, the anti-smokers are touting a single telephone survey with leading questions that produced an odd result of smoking being “less satisfying” since the introduction of plain packaging as valid evidence for the policy.

    None of this is science. It’s casting around for support for a preconceived notion, far removed from the Popperian ideal, or whatever. The particular example just mentioned is manipulating the human capacity for social conformity, for instance (once people know what answer is expected/admired/etc, they will tend to conform to it).

    I am always reminded of some years ago now when I had the rare delight of being telephone polled. The interviewer asked me who I was going to vote for, and I nearly didn’t say “UKIP” because I felt it was like saying to this nice lady (who I am genetically predisposed to attempt to gain teh admiration of, for reasons discussed in other thread ad nauseam) “I’m a nasty racist bastard”. I mean, I did say UKIP, but felt a surprisingly strong urge to hide my socially disapproved choice, even in a situation with no actual consequences whatsoever.

    (I am also reminded of the only other time I can remember being telephone polled, being assailed for nigh an hour with a vast array of questions from numerous surveys from numerous clients of the polling company, ranging from mobile phone plan preferences to abortion opinions to smoking habits. Both myself and the pollster were bored by the whole experience and I ended up giving virtually random answers like “the third option” and so on).

    So with smokers, an activity which has a high level of social disapproval, simply knowing one is in a smoking survey is going to produce strongly conformised results. This is how much of the anti-smoker “support” is achieved in these kinds of surveys. Asking a question like, “Would a smoking ban encourage you to give up smoking?” is bound to get a large number of false positive answers. That the most recent Aussie survey, which produced the bizarre answer that some smokers thought changing the packet reduced the quality of their smoking experience tells us something similar is going on.

  7. All the arguments against smoking start with the assumption that cigarettes have no utility to the smoker. i.e. there is not benefit to the smoker whatsoever. Which is obviously bullshit. So when they hear that plain packaging, or whatever, has decreased their pleasure they assume it will result in people quitting, or smoking less, which is also bullshit. For that to happen, the negative difference made by the packaging would have to be greater than the overall utility being obtained, which is probably never the case in a single instance. Quitting smoking is notoriously hard to do, and nobody is going to achieve that because of the packaging.

  8. I’m all for declaring interest when talking heads appear on TV.

    I look forward, with great interest, to the day when Bob Ward appears on TV sporting a sponsorship T-shirt and Hat bearing the slogan:

    And when George Monbiot himself is forced to walk around in an AUTO TRADER sandwich board.


  9. PaulB @ 2:11pm:

    “Offhand, I would expect off-putting packaging to have more effect on potential smokers than existing smokers.”

    Yes, but that’s not the evidence being presented to ‘prove’ that it’s working in Australia, as the BBC confirms.

    “A study conducted in Australia found that smokers using standardised plain brown packets were 81% more likely to consider quitting.”

    So, the fact that prevalence hasn’t noticeably declined is very much a salient point to make.

    In the summer, the government said they would wait to see if the Australian experiment yielded results worthy enough to justify stealing IP from legal businesses in this country too. Considering the sole reason that campaigners are calling for this measure is, indeed, to make smoking less attractive to children, there is still no relevant evidence to draw from. As such, you have to wonder why the coalition are changing their minds now.

    It’s probably because, politicians being idiots as usual, they are debating in the house about how very brilliant it will be to make smokers quit. The prevalence survey is aimed at idiot politicians who don’t understand the policy they are arguing in favour of.

    Plus ca change.

  10. You do have to look at this from a politicians point of view, not that of reasonable people.
    There is absolutely no, short term, downside to compelling plain packaging. The pro-smoking lobby wouldn’t even have the nerve to admit its existence & anti-smokers stride triumphant.
    Long term’s a different matter. There may be a tipping point where interference by politicians becomes a cause of resentment & this will be constant reminder. And past that tipping point, an interfering politician may not be the safest credential.
    One can but hope.

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