Saturday, 31 October 2009

Evidence Based Drug Policy, or "La la la, I can't hear you!"

Professor David Nutt, a government drug policy advisor, has been 'asked to step down' following a terrible incident in which he advised the government on drugs policy.

Nutt published a piece of research (for some reason this isn't linked in either the Guardian or the BBC article.. could they not find it? Or is citing your sources frowned upon in newspaper reports?) stating (among other things) that alcohol is more harmful than cannabis, LSD or Ecstasy.

According to a letter from Alan Johnson to Nutt, this research could lead to a 'confusion between scientific advice and policy' and Nutt was asked to step down. Wait. Let's read that sentence again. 'confusion between scientific advice and policy'. What? Surely if your policy disagrees with the scientific advice, it's time to change your policy? This truly is politics at its worst.

At least Nutt isn't going quietly. Hopefully this will stir up some actual debate. Maybe people will even realise quite how ridiculous the current policy is.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Formula for the Perfect Night Out: An attractive girl and some Vodka

I haven't had a 'formula' story for a while. Actually, I don't think I've written anything for a while, but anyway, I recently came across this from the Yorkshire Evening Post (well, more specifically, from the advertising department of Vodka Kick, but it was printed in the YEP). Apparently, Phillippa Toon, the new expert 'VKendologist' has come up with the formula for the perfect night out.

What really impresses me about this story is not the total inanity of the formula (I'll get to that in a minute) but the sheer brazenness of the advertising campaign. They picked an attractive girl who happens to be studying science at university, appointed her a 'vkendologist' and then gave an exceedingly dodgy survey to lots of drunk people, before collating the answers to give a completely meaningless 'formula' (I'll get to that in a minute). They don't even try to pretend that the formula is useful - the text of the 'article' directly contradicts what the formula itself would predict, but it's accompanied by a picture of a pretty girl in a labcoat, so that qualifies it as 'science'.

Why do they print these things? Well, I know the answer to that, it's cheap copy for the newspapers, it's a few free drinks and some publicity for Ms. Toon and it's free advertising (which, incidentally, doesn't need to be checked by the ASA) for VK. Maybe the fact that they have had to use a student for this story is a good sign, indicating that real academics are less likely to put their name to this sort of thing than they used to be or (and I think this is more likely) maybe they just advertised the job of 'VKendologist' to students so they were more likely to find a girl who fit their profile (or whose profile fit their profile...).

As for the formula itself. Apparently:
(attractiveness + spontaneity) x (number of friends + venue + timing + the fun time) x (end of the evening factor)
You have no idea what any of that is supposed to mean, don't worry, we're given an explanation later. The fun time, for instance is translated as 'how much fun they have'. I assume this 'factor' in the equation came from the question from the survey:

What is the optimum time of fun on a night out? (For example 10pm to midnight)

So we're multiplying by a time period. I have literally no idea how we're supposed to do that. In fact, so far as I can work out the dimensions of this particular sum are "people + bar + period of time". I'm not sure what units we're supposed to measure 'venue' or 'attractiveness' or 'spontaneity' in - I'm also not quite sure whether being more or less spontaneous is supposed to be better.

In fact, I give up. This isn't even an attempt at a formula, it's an attempt to get the words 'VK' and 'perfect night out' into a newspaper accompanied by a picture of an attractive young woman. It's a total success. This is not entirely the fault of the VK advertising department, or of Phillippa Toon, or even of the Yorkshire Evening Post.