Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sellman resorts to demagoguery

An article in yesterday's Dominion Post shows how readily anti-alcohol campaigners resort to shonky propaganda techniques more often associated with demagoguery.

The article examines the influence of scientific advice on government policy and notes that the government appears to have ignored the views of chief scientific adviser Sir Peter Gluckman on alcohol law reform.

Commenting on this, Professor Doug Sellman is quoted as saying: "The PM gets advice from all sorts of places, and he's obviously taking his advice from the alcohol industry over his science adviser."

So ... if the government decides not to follow the advice of Sir Peter Gluckman, it can only be because it has been captured by wealthy liquor barons. This conveniently plays to  public prejudices in the same way as populist politicians like to blame identifiable "villains" -  whether they be black people, immigrants, Jews or foreign powers - for whatever's upsetting people.

But Sellman's statement disregards something that Gluckman himself acknowledges in the same article: namely, that governments have to weigh up all manner of factors in making policy decisions. "Expert" advice is part of that mix, but as Gluckman says: "Science and scientific knowledge is not the only thing that makes policy. We don't live in a technocratically dominated society, we live in a participatory democracy."

Clearly, Gluckman accepts that governments don't make decisions just to gratify "experts". Politicians are often in a position to assess broader factors which academics, with their narrow specialist focus, may ignore or overlook. (If politicians get it wrong, we can vote them out - a fate that taxpayer-funded academics, no matter how flawed their arguments, escape.)

Sellman, on the other hand, suggests that if the government doesn't listen to the increasingly hysterical arguments of the anti-liquor propagandists, the only possible explanation is that evil capitalists have prevailed.

I wonder, does he really believe this? Is he  being wilfully dishonest, or is his view of the alcohol issue so black-and-white, so obsessively negative in its focus, that he's incapable of understanding that politicians might have perfectly legitimate and honourable reasons for not listening only to "expert" advisers?

People can make up their own minds on that. But either way, it confirms to me that Sellman is fundamentally an ideologue whose  title of professor confers a patina of academic authority.

1 comment:

RobertM said...

It would be interesting to see if the demography of North Island and Auckland students going south to attend Otago University has changed since the University brough out the Gardens, Cook and Bowling Green. During my last visit to Dunedin I enjoyed a number of late night weekend jugs in the Bowler and I found the patrons no more intoxicated or in anyway signficantly different from those you would find at midnight on Friday at say Tylers Garage in Britomart.
In an interview on 9-12 Nat Radio with Cathryn Ryan,Jenny Goodwin Professor of Social Medicine at Otago recently claimed that Otago student drinking had to be curtailed because in the liberalised market econoomy of the 2000's it had reached new excesses. Equally extraordinary was the claim on TV1 breakfast by Nadine and Peter Williams that in the 1970s students only drank beer.
All I can say if you wanted to study intoxication yoy should have been at the Knox dinner on any week night after the Dental Corp Knox officers arrived back loaded from post baracks drinks.