Thursday, August 30, 2012

Disclosures

I guess I'm really bad at keeping secrets. Two years ago, I blogged that I was doing funded work on alcohol.
Because I worry a lot about problems of one-sided skepticism, I wanted to ensure not only that any work I did would be entirely independent but also that it could be seen to be so. Consequently, this work is being undertaken as part of a consulting contract administered by the University of Canterbury, approved of by the powers that be here at the University. I drafted all of the provisions regarding academic freedom in the contract; they were happy with it. The contract guarantees our full academic independence, maintains our ownership of the intellectual property produced, guarantees our ability to publish the work as we like, and reserves to us the right to comment publicly on the work without restriction. I can't imagine what else we could have added to the contract to guarantee academic freedom. An honest application of standard economic method is what's most valuable to all parties concerned.
I presented the work first at the New Zealand Economics Association annual meetings in Wellington in 2011. The first footnote in that paper read:
This project was supported in part by the National Alcohol Beverage Industry Council (NABIC) through a grant administered by the Research & Innovation Office and the College of Business and Economics at the University of Canterbury.
I improved the paper subsequent to feedback at the NZAEs [errors in the older version corrected, though you can get the older version from the conference website to check I'm not lying; I don't want to link it and increase the pagerank of the deprecated version]. I was invited to present at the Australian Conference of Economists Policy Day later in 2011 on problems in economic analysis in health. We released the formal working paper (the improved version) while in town; my presentation at the ACE Policy Day noted that work along with other stuff like the MoH costings on tobacco. From the University of Canterbury's press release of September 2011:
His research, called “The Cost of Cost Studies”, found that at least 75 per cent of this figure would be dismissed if the 2008 researchers had used mainstream economic method.

Dr Crampton worked on the report with Matt Burgess from the New Zealand Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation in Wellington, and Brad Taylor from the Australian National University. It was commissioned by the Australian National Alcohol Beverage Industries Council (NABIC) through a grant administered by UC’s Research & Innovation Office and the College of Business and Economics.
...
NABIC approached Dr Crampton to undertake the work after the organisation saw a similar analysis he and Mr Burgess did of the 2009 BERL (Business and Economics Research Limited) report, which was commissioned by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health and ACC to look into the social costs of drugs and alcohol in New Zealand.
And the first footnote in that proper working paper reads:
This project was supported in part by the National Alcohol Beverage Industry Council (NABIC) through a grant administered by the Research & Innovation Office and the College of Business and Economics at the University of Canterbury. We thank Nick Sander and Rachel Webb for excellent research assistance and participants at the 2011 New Zealand Economics Association meetings for comment. We also thank Seamus Hogan for careful review and comment; the standard disclaimer applies.  
We sent a summary of the working paper's findings, highlighting the difference in method between the Collins & Lapsley and BERL method and that found in more standard economics, to the NZ Med Journal. It came out last week. We there have two disclosures. First, in "competing interests":

Competing interests: The underlying study was funded by NABIC (National Alcohol Beverage
Industries Council) through a grant administered by the Research & Innovation Office and the College of Business and Economics at the University of Canterbury. This funding source is also disclosed in the first footnote of the paper. Very strict controls were employed to ensure academic freedom in the conduct of the study, and the only pressure we've been under has been to complete the paper subsequent to earthquake-induced delays.

 Then again in the first footnote when we point to the working paper:

Crampton E, Burgess M, Taylor, B. The Cost of Cost Studies. University of Canterbury
Department of Economics and Finance Working Paper. 2011. Available at http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/RePEc/cbt/econwp/1129.pdf (This study was commissioned
and funded by the National Alcohol Beverage Industries Council through a grant administered by the Research & Innovation Office and the College of Business and Economics at the
University of Canterbury.)
I this past week have been busy in Australia. The Australian Liquor Stores Association, one of the constituent members of NABIC, asked if I could come out to their conference as keynote to present my findings to their members; NABIC asked if I could spend a day in Canberra telling media and some Treasury / MoH / ANPHA folks about the work. I mentioned on the blog that I was in Oz for the conference, but I hadn't made a big deal about it; I talk at a few events that I don't wind up blogging about.*

In short, I'm horribly bad at keeping secret that my work on the Collins & Lapsley report (and only that work) has been commissioned and funded by industry via an arrangement that's as iron-clad in guaranteeing academic freedom as I can imagine is possible. When the Sydney Morning Herald's Mark Metherell asked me about independence, I told him what we'd set up to guarantee independence; he still seemed suspicious, so I asked him what else I could possibly have done that would have satisfied him. He couldn't think of anything else, or at least he didn't reveal that he could.

And so it's a bit amusing when the New Zealand Herald's Kurt Bayer writes things like this:

A university researcher who today claimed youth binge drinking has remained unchanged since the legal age was lowered to 18 has had his impartiality challenged after it was revealed his research was financed by the liquor industry.
University of Canterbury economics lecturer Eric Crampton has been slammed by academics [EC: note the plural] today after suggesting there was no strong evidence of increased problem drinking among young people since lowering the alcohol purchase age to 18 in 1999.
There are two very seriously misleading suggestions here, plus a quibble.

First, there is no secret to be revealed. You don't put out press releases about things you want to keep secret. Or at least it wouldn't be the most obvious strategy.

Second, absolutely no part of my having looked at the stats on youth drinking and concluded there to be little obvious basis for cracking down on kids was commissioned, funded, or requested by anybody. Actually, scratch that. The College's media person asked me if I could offer comment on the alcohol purchase age since I work in the area. Because I knew the stats and I knew the holes in the Law Commission's evidence on the topic, I pointed to some of them. And I pointed to more subsequently here on the blog.

And here's the quibble. Bayer uses the plural to claim I've been slammed by "academics". The only person he quotes is Doug Sellman. Doug Sellman is the basis for a headline saying academics are slamming me? Come on.

*  I haven't blogged yet about my talk for the ag industry group Strategic Link a couple months ago, partially because I'm not sure if Chatham House Rules allow me to say what I said. I'm not sure whether I blogged on my talk for the National Business Review's annual strategic retreat up at Waiheke back in the fall.

8 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. A more interesting study could look at teenage drinking versus, oh I don't know a cohort of 20year+ NZ lawyers?
    Wouldn't that data be interesting!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Sorry guys, I've put a harsher filter on with respect to personal comments about Sellman. Not that either of you were all that harsh, but wanting to keep things particularly tidy.

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  5. My question was genuine. Do you think Sellman has any redeeming qualities? This is your opportunity to say "In this area he is outright wrong, but his work on XYZ is comprehensive and compelling."


    A way to make it less personal.

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  6. Doug Sellman very clearly cares very much about the very real harms that alcohol abuse imposes on others.

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  7. I have not read enough of his academic work to comment on it positively or negatively.

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