Underage Drinking and Bald Eagles

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

The Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), a private interest group, claims that people aged 12 to 20 account for 25 percent, or one-fourth, of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. That assertion was the headline of the CASA press release and became the one featured by many news media.

But the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. government agency that conducted the survey, quickly revealed that CASA's assertion was false by a factor of over 100 percent. Any abuse of alcohol is unacceptable, but such an exaggerated claim sends a dangerous message to our youth.

So the CASA figure was blatantly false. One observer called Joe Califano, head of the organization, "a serial abuser of statistics for sensationalist purposes" because of his continual promotion of statisics later proven to be greatly distorted or even without any basis in fact whatsoever.

CASA's web site later acknowledged the "oversight" of not making a fundamental sampling correction, and the Center's vice president and director of policy research admitted that the error was "very unfortunate."

On the other hand, CASA's president Califano "defended his group's decision not to make that adjustment."

So the question becomes, was the dramatically inflated figure the result of an error or an organizational decision?

Did the staff of highly trained Ph.D.s and other graduate-degree specialists make a fundamental error that few undergraduate students would make, or was a decision knowingly made to present clearly untrue statistics as fact in order to grab media and public attention?

The CASA report is titled "Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic" and Joe Califano warned that "America has an epidemic of underage drinking." However, at the press conference releasing the report, Mr. Califano acknowledged knowing that drinking among young people continues to drop.

Another question. How could CASA in good conscience repeatedly refer to declining drinking among young people as a dangerous epidemic?

As one scholar has observed, it's hard to raise money to save the engangered bald eagle if people realize that its population is growing. So some activists promote false beliefs about the bird for their own organizational and personal gain.

It appears that underage drinking and bald eagles really do have something in common.

 

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