Oz Blog News Commentary

ABC biased against coffee?

March 2, 2018 - 08:08 -- Admin

After the kerfuffle about Emma Alberici’s piece on company tax, I’m highly attuned to signs of bias at the ABC. And, sure enough, I just found one. Its an article on coffee consumption that quotes just one authority, Laure Bajurny of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, where her Linkedin profile describes her as a content developer.

The article is headlined Coffee addiction and why it could be worth shrinking your caffeine habit and Ms Bajurny is quoted as saying

“The regular heavy use of caffeine may increase your risk of things like osteoporosis, high blood pressure and heart disease, infertility,”

I’ve emphasised “may” and “could” because they are doing a lot of work here. On my initial consultation with Dr Google I found (as first or second hits)
* This article finding no association between osteoporosis and caffeine consumption
* This one on coffee consumption and blood pressure. Paywalled but you can read enough to see that there’s no clear link, and it’s worth a visit for the line “Some of coffee’s negative press seems to depend on the widespread belief that anything that tastes so good must be bad for you”
* This one linking coffee to reduced risk of heart disease and stroke

Digging a little further, I want to the caffeine page Alcohol and Drug Foundation website. It presents most of the content of the article, along with a set of references. However, I could only see one that refers to actual research on health effects of caffeine consumption by adults. From the abstract

Based on the data reviewed, it is concluded that for the healthy adult population, moderate daily caffeine intake at a dose level up to 400 mg day(-1) (equivalent to 6 mg kg(-1) body weight day(-1) in a 65-kg person) is not associated with adverse effects such as general toxicity, cardiovascular effects, effects on bone status and calcium balance (with consumption of adequate calcium), changes in adult behaviour, increased incidence of cancer and effects on male fertility.(emphasis added)

I don’t want to criticise Ms Bajurny here. I infer that she maintains the website and that the author of the article rang the Foundation and spoke to the first person she could find. The website info is pretty biased, but that’s not surprising given that it’s an explicitly anti-drug organization. In fact, contrary to the evidence quoted above from its own sources, the page says There is no safe level of drug use. (emphasis in original).

Of course, I’m not seriously concerned about anti-coffee bias. But this article is an illustration of the point that, by the very nature of journalism, articles in the media rarely give a comprehensive and accurate picture of the subject. Rather, even in the absence of any conscious bias, they reflect the accessibility of sources, the ease with which particular arguments can be framed and so on. In the economics context, the views of the banks get much more attention than they should because they have media-friendly analysts on call at all times.

What’s striking about the Alberici episode is the haste with which the current ABC management moved to suppress an article that leaned towards criticism of the government line, apparently in response to pressure from the government.