Thursday, 17 May 2012

How To Rig A Public Consultation?

If you were a responsible politician keen on delivering fair and transparent government, who would you appoint to impartially evaluate evidence pertaining to a public consultation? A crossbench Lord? An impartial judge? A retired police commissioner or business leader?

Well, looking at the impact assessment for the ongoing consultation on plain packaging, Andrew Lansley's Department of Health seem to have plumped for none of the above (from page 28).
Annex 2: Elicitation of Subjective Judgments of the Impact on Smoking of Plain Packaging Policies for Tobacco Products

The sample will consist of three groups of internationally-renowned experts on tobacco control policies, one group recruited from each of Australasia, the UK and North America. We will aim to recruit about 10 participants per group, numbers found to be sufficient in previous studies. Experts will meet Hora and van Winterfeldt’s first four requirements for participation, that is: (a) tangible evidence of expertise (as evidenced by publications), (b) reputation (as indicated by peer-nomination), and (c) availability and willingness to participate, (d) understanding of the general problem area (in addition to being a requirement for recruitment, participants will be provided with papers on the topic area to ensure sufficient knowledge). The latter two requirements suggested by Hora and van Winterfeldt (impartiality and lack of an economic or personal stake in potential findings) are considered impractical in this area, and so instead we will include a description of the participants’ employment and expertise for transparency.
Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but this would seem to suggest that the 'experts' to be appointed for this purpose will all be people paid to come up with tobacco control policies ... like plain packaging.

The tract admits that there's no way they will be impartial, and that many will have a personal stake in seeing one side of the argument prevail over the other. However, the civil service doesn't seem to envisage any problem with this.

It's like handing control of the Leveson Inquiry to an associate of Rebekah Brooks, or even Rebekah Brooks herself with James Murdoch as a fellow panel member. Or Alex Ferguson appointing four members of the Manchester United Supporters Club to be officials for an important Champions League fixture.

In the scenario above, it's not inconceivable that the 'experts' recruited to offer 'subjective' judgements on plain packaging could include Simon Chapman, Linda Bauld and Stanton Glantz!

This is what passes for democratic process in this wonderful free country of ours.

Since we're well into the consultation period, one wonders if these panel members have been appointed yet or, if not, if the DoH has an idea of who they will be contacting for the roles. I can feel another FOI request coming on.


truckerlyn said...

This is what passes for democratic process in this wonderful free country of ours.

Since when did we live in a free country, Dick?  To me, it seems that long ago now, I honestly cannot remember!

truckerlyn said...

Meant to add, the irony is that we send our troops to fight for the freedom of others whilst our governments sit pretty and daily erode our freedoms!

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Yes, I meant to put the word in inverted commas. ;)

truckerlyn said...

Will let you off, this time Dick! :)

Lysistrata Eleftheria said...

 "The latter two requirements suggested by Hora
and van Winterfeldt (impartiality and lack of an economic or personal stake in
potential findings) are considered impractical in this area..."

I've just looked up these two people (and it's von not van) and started to read what they actually say about the elicitation and use of expert judgment: for example, in this paper on how to assess the dangers of waste from a nuclear power station:

I also looked at a briefing referring to the Cooke classical model and EXCALIBUR method regarding elicitation and expert judgment:

In both papers, the elimination of bias and personal views is stressed, to the extent that any expert holding extreme or influenced views is given less weighting in the mathematical formulae applied. Strict adherence to scientific methods is also stressed.

It's obvious that including only tobacco-control experts negates the whole exercise.

It's also obvious that the people commissioning this exercise (and it won't come cheap) have taken the decades-old discipline of eliciting expert judgment and, like a greedy toddler at a party, have simply taken the bit they wanted, licked the icing off the cake and thrown the cake on the floor.

Jay said...

Which is why this "consultation" is absolutely pointless.  Anybody else excited for the 5th of November?  I be thinking 'bout a party, I do.

Dim Δημητρης Karagiannis said...

Like putting vegans to make a study for the benefits of meat and other vegans will peer review it... objectively ofcourse....

Perhaps though Dick if they put Stanton and Simon together that is going to work on our benefit? As far I know, those two don't get along ( Well at least not in the smoking/movies rating issue)

Dick_Puddlecote said...

You're probably right Jay, but I still think it's important to respond to it in some way, preferably in detail. It doesn't take long and the more responses ignored, the more rigged the process is seen to be.

They airbrushed out 25,000 from the tobacco display consultation, even after lying to parliament in the preparation. Our job is to keep being awkward and making them jump through ever more corrupt hoops.

RTS said...

 Or as I always like to put it; "Like consulting the BNP regarding the impact of immigration."

It really does make me physically sick.

Et Tu Westminster said...

Lansley and other political pimps only listen to the selected presssure groups who select themselves in any case.
Tiny minority interest groups now contol the agenda,the pleas and
concerns of the ordinary drowned out by the thundering chatter of
off beat freaks,weirdos,perverts,witches,wizards and odd balls
The chicken livered MPs just have not got the guts to stand up and
push the chatterers back up their ivory Towers.
We are now witnessing the death throes of representative democracy,
the coffin awaits.

A voice in the Wilderness.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Probably the best thing you've ever splattered on here, that. ;)

nisakiman said...

Does nobody have a line to the MSM? Papers like the DT are only too keen to run exclusive exposés about expenses scandals. Why won't they run something like this? Are they unaware? Or is it considered politically incorrect? I would have thought that this was a juicy morsel for a journalist wanting to increase his byline status. It's very obviously blatant rigging of the whole process, so why doesn't someone (apart from you, DP) say something?

I'm rendered (almost) speechless by the perfidy of these people.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

I've got more which will make you even more speechless. ;)

junican41 said...

Is there any way of demanding that the their deliberations be published in real time on-line? If the procedings of parliamentary committees can be so published (by being broadcast live on TV), I see no reason why people should not be privy to the meetings and discussions of these groups.  

Lysistrata Eleftheria said...

You know, I think after all these years of anti-smoking shit, this one act of wilful manipulation by the UK govt has made me angrier than anything else. Dunno why this one in particular, there's been plenty to get cross about.

I was pretty angry yesterday when I wrote a comment (above); after 24 hours of simmering I am now coldly incandescent with rage.

Dick, you wrote in reply to Nisakiman: "I've got more which will make you even more speechless. ;)"

I suspect I'm about to go supernova over this weekend, then.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

It'll wind you up, undoubtedly. ;)

The whole process looks to be a public and evidence-free farce. 

Bjorn Hallberg said...

I don't know if there is a way at all?
Legal translator at