Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Financial Times writer deplores bad use of science in Scottish heart attack studies

I know. Sorry. Again. But the Scottish Government stood by this absurd claim in repeated correspondence last year, when we criticised its use in the mental health consultation document – the document that was supposed to consult the Scottish people about whether to remove the smoking ban from psychiatric hospitals Unequivocally it said (without supplying even a reference list) that among the benefits of the smoking ban had been 'a 17 per cent reduction in heart attack admissions'. (The current state of proceedings on the smoking ban exemptions are recorded here.)

This is what John Kay has written in the Financial Times. The article is generally accessible online but you need to register (free of charge). His title is unflattering ('Even a filthy habit deserves a fair hearing'), but his analysis is commendable. Writing about unconvincing claims made to justify policy, he refers to the English and Scottish heart attack claims, and 'the more extravagant claim that the similar ban in Scotland had an effect of 17 per cent. The evidence for the former proposal [2.4 per cent] is weak, and the latter claim is implausible'. He points out the long term declines in heart attack admissions, and observes that the slightly higher than average drop in heart attack admissions in 2007 was reversed the following year. He describes the researchers' methods as 'torturing data' to produce results that 'either fit the researchers' preconceptions, or the sponsor's policy objectives, or both'.

His conclusion is very welcome at a time when the logic of social marketing holds sway (namely, that the end justifies the means): 'these observations [that smoking is unpleasant and possibly harmful to bystanders] do not justify blurring the distinction between genuine scientific analysis and propaganda disguised as science. Policy should follow evidence, not evidence policy.'

More mainstream media observations like this are essential. Considering the Scottish and English claims on heart attacks together, in the same article, shows the absurdity of the 17 per cent claim.

No doubt the Scottish Government still stands by the claim and defends the wording of the mental health consultation.


JJ said...


It's this sort of common sense that needs shoving down the throats of our wretched politicians!

Anonymous said...

"Achieving a Smoke-free mental health service".
Achieving a mental free Scottish parliament would be a better objective.

Anonymous said...

article available at

Belinda said...

Thanks Anon