Thursday, April 22, 2010

A dubious honour

National Review's Denis Boyles is appropriately puzzled --

So here are two headlines from the capitals of the EU's English-speaking ghetto:

Irish Times: Irish binge drinking 'highest in EU'

Daily Telegraph: Britain is the 'binge-drinking capital of Europe'

Only one can be right, and national pride's at stake. Obviously, what these small island nations need is a winner-take-all bar fight — as long as we don't get stuck with the tab.

And indeed it seems that the respective hacks, probably with the help of country-specific press releases put out by Eurobarometer, fished out the most eye-catching presentation of the data. Resolution requires , er, research, so proceed to page 24 of the actual report to see that: Irish drinkers lead the EU in the proportion of those drinking that have 3-4 drinks (35%) or 5-6 drinks (19%). As 5 or more drinks as the threshold for binge drinking, the Irish Times hails our success in binge drinking.

But wait. Binge drinking is 5 or more drinks. It's true we lead Europe in the category of very precise binge drinking i.e. 5 or 6. But you have to look at all consumption over 5 drinks. For Ireland there's another 5% who have 7-9, and 2% who have 10 or more. Total percentage of bingers: 19+5+2=26%.

For the UK: 12% have 5-6, and 6% have 7-9, 6% have 10 or more. So 12+6+6=24% are binge drinkers.

Summary: Ireland wins the overall binge drinking category, but the Irish Times presented the data incorrectly, forgetting to look at cumulative shares over 5 drinks. But the UK dominates the extreme categories: 12% of drinkers have at least 7 drinks or more in a sitting. So the Telegraph uses the non-standard definition of binge drinking, but at least on that basis comes to the correct conclusion.

Neither newspaper explores the additional question of where all this binge drinking takes place, or, when it takes place abroad, which nationality is more deluded about the extent to which their hosts find it amusing.

Incidentally, one has to go the business pages to find a category in which Ireland indisputably heads a European table. That would be for the 2009 budget deficit in the Eurozone, which may come as news to the Greece-obsessed bond traders who seem to lap up Irish Department of Finance press releases in a manner that would shame even the alcohol hacks for the Irish Times and the Daily Telegraph.

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