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Doing violence to evidence on violence? How the alcohol industry created doubt in order to influence policy

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JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
DateAccepted/In press - 31 May 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 20 Jul 2021
Issue number1
Volume41
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)144-152
Early online date20/07/21
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Introduction
In 2015/2016 controversy followed the publication of a report on an anthropological study of Australian and New Zealand night-time economies funded by a major alcohol producer. This paper explores the background, moments of public controversy and political uses of the report.

Methods
Informed by the sociology of scientific controversies, we review the available relevant work of the author of the report, associated material such as press releases, newspaper articles (n = 18) and industry submissions to government (n = 12). Attention was paid to the ways in which claims were made about the relationship between alcohol and violence, and the ways in which credibility and legitimacy were constructed.

Results
The author of the report has longstanding associations with alcohol industry organisations. Claims made regarding alcohol and violence have remained highly consistent over time, and appear oblivious to developments in the evidence. In the media, the story was largely framed as a contest of credibility between compromised parties. The report continues to be used in alcohol industry submissions to government.

Discussion and Conclusions
This analysis suggests that this is a ‘counterfeit scientific controversy’; in our assessment, the report has had value not as a contribution to the scientific literature, but as a resource in the claims-making practices of the alcohol industry. Studies of the ways in which industry actors foster science-related content conducted at significant social and conceptual distance from the core of the relevant research community will enhance understandings of the ways in which industry actors engage with science and policy.

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© 2021 The Authors.

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