This week’s success in regulating award

I just read another story of a successful program that’s supposed to be a model for the nation, but in fact accomplished nothing that anybody can see.

It reminded me of many stories advocating increased traffic enforcement, and suffered the same flaws, but this one was about drinking and learning.

The newspaper article was about a report on a soda ban in Boston schools. The scientific report doesn’t smell like a fraud, unlike many traffic safety studies. It just has a very narrow focus and a reporter is piling more weight on it than it can bear.

Seven researchers “used a cross-sectional post-test study design to conduct an onsite audit of the availability of competitive beverages in all 122 BPS buildings from March through June 2013.”

Now in English. They visited schools and checked out the vending machines to see what was for sale. Most school districts complied with city policy and didn’t sell soda.

I’m not suspicious of this result. You can’t sneak an illicit vending machine onto campus like you can a bag of weed. Compliance depends on administrators who can still drink whatever they like.

But look at what the Globe article says. The study “calls the city’s strict rules a model for the nation.” No, it doesn’t. That phrase is not in the published report. The authors of that report thought the data would be useful as planners around the country develop policies.

The most important sentence is in the eighth paragraph: “The researchers did not examine whether the policies affected obesity rates.”

In other words, we don’t know if this model-for-the-nation success worked at all.

Now I’m on familiar ground. This is like many the traffic enforcement studies that pointed to an increase in compliance, while avoiding mention of increased accidents. It’s like the success reports on “move over” laws that count tickets, while avoiding mention of accident rates. Etc.

Twenty years ago New York City received legislative approval to for a “demonstration” program to test effectiveness of red light cameras. The city was supposed to submit a report. That temporary approval has been extended, and there is still no report.

Don’t judge these articles by the headlines. Look for the real data. If the people with access to the data aren’t making it available, we can assume that it’s not favorable to their position.

(The fine print: It’s not a ban on possession or drinking of soda, only on sale from vending machines. And it’s not limited to soda. It’s more like a “drinks that taste good” ban, covering milk and fruit juice as well. But it’s mostly about soda, and I’ll leave the question of whether 100 calories of fructosy apple juice is better than 100 calories of fructosy Coke for another forum.)

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links. The author’s favorite beverage is tea.

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