Alcohol Use Disorders (75) Contradictory advice from professsionals: Why, what, how? (2) What is the role of the alcohol industry? (7)

20 February, 2024

Richard Velleman writes: "It is not solely that people “adopt an inappropriate stance of certainty? Some of us appear unable or unwilling to accept that 'the science is not yet clear'” – it is also that all scientific data is open to interpretation – the myth has been well exploded over the past decades of the scientist as a purely objective being, not influenced by a huge number of internal and external factors. In fact, all data and conclusions deduced from them are theory-laden, and influenced by a wide range of factors; and I think that this issue of relativism is also being played out in this debate."

Yes, each health professional looks at the same data (for example, the data around the possible cardioprotective effect of alcohol in moderation), comes to a different conclusion, and projects a very different message to the general public. The end result is a confused public and reduced trust in health professionals' advice.

Worse, as Richard says, health professionals do this with an air of certainty. We have seen the same is true for health organisations and academic institutions such as Harvard and the Mayo Clinic.

It can therefore be argued that individual health professionals, health organisations and academic institutions are part of the problem. Their inconsistency and failure to acknowledge uncertainty has led to chaos in public health communication.

By contrast, the alcohol industry is focused and consistent (misleading but consistent) in their approach to messaging on alcohol and health.

The question then arises: how can health professsionals and health organisations be stronger together in their health messaging? How might they be encouraged to be more honest with the general public and acknowledge uncertainty?

On the question of 'the role of the alcohol industry', how can health professionals and health organisations speak with a more united voice in the face of alcohol industry misinformation?

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: