tannoy blog — hitchins

I heard someone called Peter Hitchins on the Today Programme podcast yesterday.

He was commenting on Professor Nutt et al’s piece in the Lancet about the impact of alcohol (BBC summary). This peer reviewed article concluded that alcohol is the drug that has the most harmful impact on society. Even more, this impact on society is so significant that, despite being less harmful on the individual than Heroin or Crack Cocaine, alcohol is the most harmful drug there is. The article was based on official government figures.


The paper weighed those figures up to come to it’s conclusion. You could argue that the weighing was dubious, so the conclusion was dubious.

You certainly can’t argue, as Peter Hitchins did, that because the paper uses language he doesn’t understand, it must be pseudo–science. He really did do that. He claimed because he didn’t understand the terminology, e.g. that because he is too lazy or too incapable to have done the work to understand it, the conclusion was nonsense. This is the “I don’t understand, therefore it can’t be so”, the argument from arrogance (ok, officially, it’s the Argument from Personal Incredulity).

So who is correct? Medical science or Peter Hitchens? Are the big words of medical science nonsense, as he claims, or is he wrong? Let us look at the evidence. The job of medical science is to improve peoples’ health, so they'll live longer. There is lots of data around showing people live a lot longer now than historically. Now, either there’s a giant conspiracy filling the world with false evidence, or people live longer. So everything’s fake, or just Peter Hitchens is fake.

He did sound like he’d been put on the spot. He did sound like he was a last minute substitute for someone else. But, really, when you don’t know, you shut up.

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