Alcohol Makes You Smarter OR Another Bogus “Study” to Serve Alcohol Industry

Share/Bookmark

Alcohol Makes You Smarter OR Another Bogus “Study” to Serve Alcohol Industry

12 April 2012

Edip Yuksel

The benefit of the wine comes from the grape juice, not the alcohol. A recent Yale study demonstrated a correlation flaw in the so-called studies showing the benefit of wine against heart diseases. Besides, the beer and wine industry spends billions of dollars annually to promote their products, and part of the promotion is sponsoring “scientists” to come up with good news about their products. I have heard the same story of benefits of wine, for years after years cooked and presented by the media as “fresh” news.

The following news published by Addiction.com in 23 March 2012 supports my contention. It is worth reading.

The influence of “Big Alcohol” in the health arena deserves as much scrutiny as Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, especially in light of evidence of bias in funded research, unsupported claims of benefit, and inappropriate promotion and marketing by the alcohol industry, says a new editorial in this week’s PLoS Medicine. The PLoS Medicine editors argue that the statistics about problem drinking are troubling enough, but what also demands more attention and research is the influence of the alcohol industry on health research, government policy, and public perceptions of the harms and benefits of alcohol.

In the UK, for example, there have been scathing allegations that the current government is too close to the drinks industry, including its recent invitations allowing industry representatives to influence public health policy, which led to a withdrawal of support for a key alcohol policy by major organizations including the British Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians, and several alcohol control charities.

Other analyses have documented a laundry list of misdeeds by the alcohol industry: promoting the health benefits of alcohol while downplaying harms; deflecting attention away from scientific data that contradict industry exaggerations of benefit; evading government controls on advertising by evolving new strategies to market to youth; and engaging in philanthropy to promote brand loyalty, among others.

“If this questionable behavior is reminiscent of the strategies developed by the pharmaceutical, tobacco, and other industries to further their agendas,” say the editors, “it should be a wake-up call to us all.”

They continue: “Whether the solutions are stricter regulation over advertising and promotion, banning sports sponsorships, setting minimum pricing, restricting access, introducing mandatory safety labeling, or holding the industry to account for the harms associated with their products, there is a need now to target more attention to and research on the alcohol industry that can support and fuel legislative, regulatory, and community action to protect the public health.”[1]

We all know that media receives billions of dollars ad revenue from beer, vodka, and wine commercials. I will not be surprised if the researchers and/or news reporters too received vacation gifts, money or promise of money from companies producing and distributing alcoholic beverages.  Here is the title of the news in Science News magazine, which was echoed around the world in the media as “good news” for beer and wine industry, and of course, bartenders.

Getting a buzz from booze may boost creativity. Men who drank themselves tipsy solved more problems demanding verbal resourcefulness in less time than sober guys did, a new study finds.

Sudden, intuitive insights into tricky word-association problems occurred more frequently when men were intoxicated but not legally drunk, say psychology graduate student Andrew Jarosz of the University of Illinois at Chicago and his colleagues. Sober men took a more deliberative approach to this task.

A moderate alcoholic high loosens a person’s focus of attention, making it easier to find connections among remotely related ideas, the scientists propose online January 28 in Consciousness and Cognition.

In the study, 20 social drinkers watched an animated movie while eating a snack. Volunteers then drank enough of a vodka cranberry drink to reach an average peak blood alcohol level of 0.075 percent, just below the current 0.08 percent cutoff for legal intoxication in the United States. Another 20 social drinkers watched the same movie without eating or drinking.

Men in both groups then completed a creative problem-solving task. For each of 15 items, volunteers saw three words — say,peach, arm and tar — and had to think of a fourth word that forms a phrase with each of them, such as pit.

On average, participants at peak intoxication solved about nine problems correctly, versus approximately six winners for the sober crowd. It took an average of 11.5 seconds for intoxicated men to generate a correct solution, compared with 15.2 seconds for sober men.

Both groups performed comparably on the test before the study began.

Jarosz and University of Illinois psychologist Jennifer Wiley, a study coauthor, suspect their finding applies to musical and artistic inspiration. “A composer or artist fixated on previous work may indeed find creative benefits from intoxication,” they say.

Other preliminary evidence – some from the Chicago team — finds a creative bump from additional approaches to broadening attention’s scope, such as watching a mood-enhancing movie or using biofeedback to reach a relaxed mental state.

Jarosz’s team offers an intriguing glimpse at how an alcoholic buzz prompts intuitive insights into problems that require searching pre-existing knowledge, says psychologist Mark Beeman of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Further studies with intoxicated volunteers should employ complex problems that require information gathering and recognition of novel patterns, key features of many real-life problems, Beeman suggests.

Intoxication may aid verbal creativity partly by lowering the ability to control one’s thoughts, comments psychologist J. Scott Saults of the University of Missouri in Columbia. He and his colleagues have found that alcohol reduces recall of sequences of sounds and images but leaves working memory unaffected.

Saults’ team has also reported that intoxicated individuals become less afraid to make mistakes, another possible creativity booster.[2]

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/338406/title/Vodka_delivers_shot_of_creativity

This is another so-called research to promote alcohol and will be celebrated and repeated by media that receive billions of dollars from alcohol manufacturers in terms of advertisement. This news is now circulating in the media and will be echoed and served for years to come. For instance, about three weeks after this report in Science News, I heard it on April 10, while watching the morning news on CBS channel. Hundreds of newspapers too picked the story cheering customers in bars. For instance, The Daily Telegraph used the following title with a picture of men drinking beer in bar and getting “smart” and “creative”: Alcohol sharpens the mind, research finds: Men who drink two pints of beer before tackling brain teasers perform better than those who attempt the riddles sober, scientists have found.”[3]

Common Flaws or Tricks Employed in Pro-alcohol Research

This so-called study has major problems and one need not be a rocket scientist to notice them. Having a sober mind is sufficient to notice many of these problems.

  1. HASTY GENERALIZATION: The population is too small: comparing the 20 people with 20 people does not warrant the conclusion… The margin of error is huge. A few more people with higher IQ ending up in one group could improve the average performance of that group significantly.
  2. PICKING A NARROW TESTING CATEGORY. The study does not use different tests that provide better measure regarding the diverse intellectual skills one person has. Some scholars, such as Beeman, criticized the research, “further studies with intoxicated volunteers should employ complex problems that require information gathering and recognition of novel patterns, key features of many real-life problems.”
  3. DOCTORING STUDIES TO CHANGE REALITY: It is incredible that educated people with ostentatious titles even suggest conducting studies for obvious facts such as the adverse effect of alcohol on the performance of human brain. Do we really need scholars or researchers to tell us that using alcohol make a person more stupid? It is like asking researchers to do further studies to check whether  jumping from the fifth floor increases the chances of breaking one’s bones. No wonder, a subscriber of the magazine, Peter Denholm, dropped the following real life testimony under the news: “I think I have read about alcohol making one more intelligent. The article said those drinking very high proof alcohol had higher IQs. But it is not something I have experienced; I think alcohol lowered my IQ when I used to drink.”
  4. LIKELIHOOD OF COMMITTING CORRELATION WİTH CAUSE: “False Cause” is is one of the informal logical fallacies that I teach to my students of Introduction to Logic… Unfortunately, this is one of the most popular fallacies among researchers who are not raised as critical thinkers during their formative years at home and K-12 education. The educational system, unfortunately, produces some researchers and academics filled with too much fragments of information and data, yet with poor critical thinking skills. I am glad to notice that another subscriber of the Science News magazine, Richard Bentley, noticed this glaring problem with this so-called research:  “How do we know it wasn’t the eating that improved their performance? Seems like the control group should have gotten snacks and non-alcoholic cranberry juice.” I am even happier to read another sober reader of the magazine, David Fields, directing similar criticism by highlighting the obvious problem couched with a justified cautionary phrase, a sign of a critical thinker: “Seems like there is a really basic flaw in the design of this study, Perhaps I’m misreading or the reporter misreported, but the control group NEITHER ATE NOR DRANK, while the test group did both. How do we know that the performance enhancement effect was due to the alcohol? Perhaps it was the (probable) carbohydrate load in the snack, or for that matter in the cranberry flavoring of the drink. Please, what’s missing here?”

I second one of the messages posted by a subscriber, Gabriel Mayer of Orlando, Florida: “The ‘creative’ behavior described here is better known as drunk. As for the authors who designed the study parameters, perhaps they should be administered a breathalyzer test.”

These sorts of research are periodically repeated and they are fed to the public through media with fanfare. For instance, a “study” led by UCL professor Sir Michael Marmot made news all around the world and was embraced by millions of drunks and alcoholics as justification for their addictions. The researcher declared the conclusion of his research in the following hyperbole:

“Our results appear to suggest some specificity in the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive ability… Frequent drinking may be more beneficial than drinking only on special occasions.”[4]

Using researchers and scientists to promote a TOXIC and ADDICTIVE drug

Not only some studies are served repeatedly, but sometimes they are served deceptively. The following news is a good example of how an old study with bad news about consumption of alcohol is re-published to promote alcohol consumption.  The catchy title of the news was: “Cleverest women are the heaviest drinkers[5]

The news read, “Those with degrees are almost twice as likely to drink daily, and they are also more likely to admit to having a drinking problem. A similar link between educational attainment and alcohol consumption is seen among men, but the correlation is less strong.”

This was published in Daily Telegraph in 2010 and you assume that the research must have been done in 2010, since it is published in a DAILY newspapers. Well, you will be wrong, very wrong. Let’s read further:

“The findings come from a comprehensive study carried out at the London School of Economics in which researchers tracked the lives of thousands of 39-year-old women and men, all born in the UK during the same week in 1970. The report concludes: “The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns.”

Again, the devil is in details. Of course we are not given all the relevant details that will greatly undermine and even refute the distorted research and its conclusion. We are expected to believe in a “cause-and-effect” relationship between alcohol and intellect by swallowing the implicit cunning message and by committing the very popular logical fallacy of “affirming the consequent”:

    • “If you are a woman and not heavy drinker, you are not very clever.”
    • “If you are not a heavy drinker woman, most likely you are not very clever.”
    • “If you want to be a clever woman, you should start drinking alcohol, a lot of it.”

‘The better-educated appear to be the ones who engage the most in problematic patterns of alcohol consumption.’” But the devil is in detail… The researcher’s remark contradicts the implication and message of the title of the news. Alcohol, as it appears, is just one of the correlations. The real possible causes, as it seems, were acknowledged by the researchers:

“The authors of the report, Francesca Borgonovi and Maria Huerta, suggest several possible explanations as to why better-educated women drink more. They tend to have children later, postponing the responsibilities of parenthood. They may have more active social lives or work in male-dominated workplaces with a drinking culture. As girls, they may have grown up in middle-class families and seen their parents drink regularly.”

In other words, if you study the cars or shoes of the better-educated women you may come up with the following conclusion and great news for BMW and Mercedes:  ”Cleverest women use Mercedes.” Or “Cleverest women have more shoes and use expensive perfume”

And even a more important conclusion of the study contradicts the message of the title: “Higher educated women were 1.7 times more likely to have a drinking problem, as assessed through their questionnaire answers, than their less-well-educated counterparts.” The news continues to take the fizz and buzz out of the title, which will be remembered by most readers, rather than the following information:

“‘Reasons for the positive association of education and drinking behaviours may include: a more intensive social life that encourages alcohol intake; a greater engagement into traditionally male spheres of life, a greater social acceptability of alcohol use and abuse; more exposure to alcohol use during formative years; and greater postponement of childbearing and its responsibilities among the better educated,’ says the report.”

Commenting on the findings, a spokesman for the Alcohol Concern charity said: “This raises concerns which need to be addressed.

“People with higher qualifications have more disposable income, and we have seen a trend where there has been an increase in the marketing of wine, particularly aimed at working women. People who abuse alcohol face a higher risk of suffering from health problems including cancer, liver cirrhosis, lung and cardiovascular disease, and mental and behavioural issues.”

Here a list of few news titles published by the influential British newspaper about the benefits and harms of alcohol.

    • Alcohol sharpens your brain (Robert Matthews, Daily Telegraph, 1 August 2004).
    • Cleverest women are the heaviest drinkers (Roger Dobson, Daily Telegraph, 4 April 2010)
    • Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer (Rebecca Smith, Daily Telegraph, 29 March 2012)
    • Alcohol sharpens the mind (Matthew Holehouse, Daily Telegraph, 11 April, 2012).

Wait, these and similar rehashed dubious studies are also gathered and introduced as scientific proof that alcohol is beneficial or even essential for good health. I do not deny some benefits of alcohol, but evaluated together with its harms to human mind, health, quality of social and family interaction, its role in traffic and work related accidents, its addictive nature, its financial tall on society, the choice of avoiding alcohol or been a teetotaler is no brainer.

But, listen to the so-called researchers. If you are not a frequent moderate drinker, then according an impressive list of hundreds of research you should not waste a day and go to a bar and start consuming your “moderate” doze. According to research, an article authored by David J. Hanson, a retired sociology professor at State University of New York at Potsdam, introduces alcohol as panacea for a plethora of diseases and problems:

“Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers. In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor) are generally less likely to suffer strokes, diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), and several major cancers.”[6]

I did not expect to find the list of hundreds of other studies indicating the opposite. For instance, you will not find the study that made little news in March 2012 concluding that, “Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer.[7] Prof. Hanson is a prolific author and a relentless activist for the promotion of alcohol, even for teenagers. According to his words, he has dedicated his life to promotion of alcohol and has written 300 “scholarly papers” and textbooks. [8]

Hanson has been on major news channels including NBC, CNBC, CNN, ABC, BBC and popular TV programs as an “alcohol expert” more than all the millions of ordinary victims of alcohol and more than many of the famous victims of alcohol, such as:

John Ford, Ulysses S. Grant, Ernest Hemingway, Janice Dickinson, Jack Kerouac, Stephen King, David Hasselhoff, Michael J. Fox, Meredith Baxter, Eric Clapton, Hunter S. Thompson, Anne Lamott, Robert Downey, Jr., David Crosby, McKenzie Philips, Alexander the Great, Edgar Allen Poe, Larry Hagman, John Daly, George W. Bush, Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, Tracy Morgan, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith, Melanie Griffith, William Shatner, Eddie Van Halen, Keith Urban, Johnny Cash, Ben Affleck, Buzz Aldrin, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Carrie Fisher, Kris Kristoferson, Franklin Pierce, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, John Barrymore, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Ava Gardner, Betty Ford, Robert Young, John Denver, Mel Gibson, William S. Burroughs, Raymond Carver, Robbie Williams, Ozzie Osborne, Brett Butler, Tim Allen, Errol Flynn, Tom Arnold, William Holden, Steve McQueen, O. Henry, Jim Morrison, Hank Williams, Billie Holliday, Veronica Lake, W.C. Fields, James Thurber, Lorenz Hart, Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Robin Williams, Melissa Gilbert, Beverly DeAngelo, Linda Carter, Samuel L. Jackson, Kelsey Grammer, Billy Joel, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Michael Landon, Demi Moore, Joe Namath, Jackie Gleason, Ted Kennedy, Joan Kennedy, Boris Yeltsin, Joseph Stalin, Alexander Gudonov, Ed McMahon, Dave Mustaine, Ray Charles, Doc Holiday, Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, John Bonham, George Carlin, Anthony Hopkins, Slash, Eugene O’Neill, Ringo Starr, Trent Reznor, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Joe Dimaggio, Lester Young, Herve Villachez, Glenn Beck, Lee Marvin, Colin Farrell, Steve Clark, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, Chad Lowe, Chris Mullin, Steven Tyler, Gene Simmons, Anthony Kedis, Elton John, Natalie Wood, Nick Nolte.



[1] A Laundry List of Misdeeds By The Alcohol Industry, Addiction.com, 23 March 2012, See: http://www.addictionts.com/2012/03/23/a-laundry-list-of-misdeeds-by-the-alcohol-industry/

[2] Bruce Bower Vodka delivers shot of creativity: A boozy glow may trigger problem-solving insights, Science News, March 24th, 2012; Vol.181 #6 (p. 12)

[3] “Alcohol sharpens the mind, research finds: Men who drink two pints of beer before tackling brain teasers perform better than those who attempt the riddles sober, scientists have found.” Matthew Holehouse, The Daily Telegraph, 11 Apr 2012.

[4] Robert Matthews, Alcohol sharpens your brain, say researchers, Science News, 01 Aug 2004

[5] Roger Dobson, Cleverest women are the heaviest drinkers: Women who went to university consume more alcohol than their less-highly-educated counterparts, a major study has found, The Telegraph, 4 Apr 2010.

[6] Alcohol and Health, David Hanson, published at http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AlcoholAndHealth.html

[7] Rebecca Smith, Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer, Daily Telegraph, 29 March 2012

[8] See: http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AboutYourHost.html