The Tools of Farce
It has been reported that the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill has secured a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation to investigate "how easy it is to order alcohol from the Web." I think this is a good idea as long as the researchers in charge actually have the intention of investigating something instead of creating publicity in pursuit of advocating something.
If the question they want to answer is "how easy is it to order alcohol on the web" I can save the RWJ Foundation a great deal of money. It's very easy. In fact, it's only slightly more difficult than it is for a minor to walk into a store and put a bottle of wine on the counter and attempt to walk of out the store with it—these two things are identical.
The real question that should be asked and researched is how easy is it for minors to get their hands on a bottle of wine through an Internet transaction, not how easy is it to order it.
Upon hearing about this study, the News-Recorder, in an editorial, made this stunning comment that indicates at least that the editorial board of that newspaper has no clue what it was it is writing about:
"On some Web sites, underage purchasers need only click on a statement
saying they're at least age 21 to set the wheels in motion. Shipments
arrive, no questions asked."
Of course, a number of questions are asked, not the least of which are: "Can I see your ID" when the Fed EX and UPS drivers arrive at the door with the ordered wine.
The unfortunate part about this study is that it appears that the conclusion is in the bag without any study ever having been conducted:
"They don't do enough to keep underage people from buying," said Laura
Borders, 18, a N.C. School of Science and Mathematics senior who's
doing a preliminary survey of sites for the project."
Why am I not surprised that an 18 year old freshman doesn't understand that the purpose of research is to reveal the truth, rather than to approach research with the "truth" already predetermined? With this being the attitude the actual researchers are bringing to the project before it ever begins, is there any reason to believe that it will have any validity at all?
But then there are the folks who should actually know better but who apparently have find themselves in a position of authority without the good sense to go with it:
"Even if relatively few minors are ordering beer, wine or liquor online,
the practice should be shut down before it grows, said Traci L. Toomey,
associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota
School of Public Health. As crackdowns on selling beer and booze to
minors in convenience stores and other bricks-and-mortar venues
continue, online sources may get more underage traffic, Toomey said."
If Ms. Toomey had the courage of her apparent convictions, she'd be calling for the shutting down of the sale of alcohol in brick and mortar stores since far more minors obtain alcohol through them than those who order it online.
I've see the kind of research Ms. Toomey has done with regard to minors access to alcohol. The reason she states "even if relatively few minors are ordering beer, wine or liquor online…" is because her very own research shows that online sales are the most insignificant sources of minors' access points to alcohol.
What's unfortunate about Ms. Toomey's position is that it contradicts her own statements. Ms Toomey is a Co-Author of a 2000 study that she herself said could not be used to determine that alcohol was being obtained by minors on the Internet. How do I know this? I spoke with her about it in 2005. The study was called, "Alcohol Home Delivery Services: A Source of Alcohol for Underage Drinkers" and she worked on it with another researcher named Linda Fletcher.
Now it so happens that this 2000 study Ms. Toomey was responsible for was used in a National Academy of Sciences paper entitled "Reducing Underage
Drinking: A Collective Responsibility (2004)"
On page 174 of that publication the authors of the NAS paper write: "
"Surveys of underage purchase of alcohol over the Internet
or through home delivery show that small percentages (10 percent) of
young people report obtaining alcohol in this manner."
The NAS got their information from the 2000 study that Ms. Toomey worked on. The wholesalers picked up on this quote in the NAS paper and made very loud claims that direct shipping of wine had been proven to be unsafe. But guess what. The 2000 study that Ms. Toomey worked on never mentioned the words "Web", "Internet" or "online". And when I asked Ms. Toomey about the conclusions being drawn from her study by the National Academy of Sciences and the alcohol distributors who don't like losing money to direct shipping, she told me this:
"using the Fletcher study as a basis for claiming minors are
getting alcohol via the Internet would be a misinterpretation of the
Ms. Toomey is a tool.
And I fear that those conducting the study at the University of North Carolina are tools also.
A study to determine the degree to which minors ARE OBTAINING alcohol from direct shipping would be a good idea. A study to determine if minors CAN ORDER alcohol online is akin to funding a study to discover if minors WANT to obtain alcohol. The former is a legitimate use of resources. The latter is a farce.