European Commission refuses to pay for ‘ad hominem attack’
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Christopher Snowdon and John Duffy react to the actions of The European Commission in relation to minimum alcohol pricing
In January 2014, the BMJ published several articles by Jonathan Gornall, a freelance journalist, alleging that think tanks, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, were part of a campaign against minimum pricing that was funded and co-ordinated by the alcohol industry. Mr Gornall told interviewees that his project was “an EU-sponsored investigation” and the BMJ credited his funding to ALICE-RAP, a project that is co-financed by the European Commission. The Commission has since distanced itself from the articles and has now asked for its credit to be removed.
John Duffy, a statistician specialising in alcohol and health, was one of the academics discussed by Mr Gornall. He subsequently wrote to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), complaining that the articles “amounted to little more than an ad hominem attack”. Duffy, who has authored dozens of academic studies in peer-reviewed journals, said that Mr Gornall’s description of his career was “laughably biased” and “borders on the libellous”.
In June, BIS formally asked the European Commission to investigate and Mr Duffy’s complaint has now been upheld. Payment for the project will not come from ALICE-RAP, as previously expected, and the European Commission has requested that reference to their funding be removed from the articles. According to BIS, Mr Gornall’s research does not “fully correspond to the agreed deliverables” that were set when the grant was issued.
In 2012, Mr Duffy wrote about the flaws of a minimum pricing computer model in a report published by the Adam Smith Institute and co-authored with Christopher Snowdon. His criticisms went unanswered in the BMJ articles. Instead, Mr Gornall focused on what he described as Mr Duffy’s “collaboration with the alcohol industry” and on the classical liberal Adam Smith Institute, which he described as launching a “barrage of pseudoacademic shots from the far right”.
On hearing that European Commission funding had been withdrawn, John Duffy said:
“I am pleased that I have been able to prevent EU taxpayers’ money, including my own, being used by the ALICE-RAP project to finance personal attacks. It’s very flattering to know that my work is so scientifically correct that all they can do is attack me personally rather than my arguments, but gutter journalism should have no place in prestigious medical journals.”
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and John Duffy’s co-author on ‘The Minimal Evidence for Minimum Pricing’, said:
“The Institute of Economic Affairs complained to the British Medical Journal about the slurs and innuendo in Jonathan Gornall’s hatchet job earlier this year, but we have received no apology. It is most unusual for an organisation to ask for its name to be removed from the credits of a peer-reviewed article, but the European Commission is right to be embarrassed by its involvement with this project.”