Study linking off-licences to violent neighbourhoods – flawed conclusions?

There’s a news item on The Drinks Business website reporting a study in the USA, presented at the AAAS meeting (one of the USA’s most important cross-disciplinary scientific conferences) showing a link between the number of off-trade alcohol outlets and violence in any particular neighbourhood.

The conclusion? We’re presumably supposed to think that this link represents some sort of causality. That is, the more outlets selling alcohol, the more violence. So if those outlets are closed down, would there be less violence?

Not necessarily. There’s nothing here to show causality. It could simply be that rougher neighbourhoods have higher rates of violence, and are also able to support more alcohol outlets. People living in nicer neighbourhoods with lower levels of violence simply might be choosing to shop for their alcohol in other ways than popping down the off-licence to pick up a six pack of beer.

Of course, there may be a real association between off-licence density and violence that is in fact causal. But we’re going beyond the data if we make that connection. And that’s bad science.

3 comments to Study linking off-licences to violent neighbourhoods – flawed conclusions?

  • Jamie,

    Agree that the findings do not equate to causality. But realistically, the only way to determine causality would be to do a before and after study – ie build a whole lot of bottleshops in an area and watch for the change in crime patterns. In the real world such studies would be close to impossible.

    I think there is a link between access to alcohol and violence. In Australia for instance there have been contentious bans on access to alcohol in communities with a history of alcohol fuelled violence. There have been significant reductions in violence following these changes.

    The bans of course have lead to calls that this is discriminatory and infringes on the rights of drinkers and publicans. Still looking at this from a utilitarian point of view the women and children of the community seem pleased, which is telling.

    Andecdotally – the prohibition in the US also lead to falls in all sorts of alcohol related disease and social ills.

  • Jack

    apart from bootlegging

  • Yes, the prohibition in the US helped to build (and finance:) the kingdom of organized crime. I believe there is some kind of relation between the rate of car accident victims and alcohol tolerance for drivers. In my country there is no alcohol tolerance (for drivers), policemen check every driver (stopped on any stupid reason) on alcohol tester, and we claim the highest rate of car accident dead victims. Our (western) culture expects causal relations (action – reaction) while eastern cultures understand that processes may do through time independently, without causing each other. Beware social ingeneering :o)))

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