Sunday, 27 June 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and the Rude Health of Pubs and Records

William Burroughs once claimed that the purpose of science was to make people aware of what they already know and the purpose of religion to stop people from being aware of what they already know. In recent times, this latter role may have been overtaken by statistics. Stats travel well on the web, they are small compact, aerodynamic, fit snugly into tweets and headlines and they have a certain punctive, so there force to them, that makes them seem convincing, even when they blatantly contradict what seems to be staring you in the face.

So, in this Observer article about the mooted extension of the smoking ban to cars and parks, the penultimate paragraph states what appears to be a paradox: the Office of National Statistics claims a a 3% in people going to pubs (incidentally, I had a look on the Office of National Statistics website and couldn't find this particular report - but I did find a report stating a 2.5% drop in the output of the hotel and restaurant trade, of which, "The largest contribution to the decrease was public houses and clubs."), yet Simon Clark of the lobby group Forest claims, "The evidence is staring people in the face. Thousands of pubs have closed since the ban was introduced." Now, Forest is a front group for the tobacco industry with little to no grassroots support, but his contention is not entirely without ground. As this Times Business article shows, with some 2,400 pubs closing between the summers of 2008 and 2009 alone, "local pubs serving small communities" have been the worst hit, while major chains like Greene King see their profits rise.

Is this not precisely analogous to the commonly repeated canard by members of the file-sharing lobby that piracy cannot possibly be bad for record sales when last year reported a rise in singles sales and the biggest selling single of all time? All around us we see record shops closing down, record labels folding, distributors collapsing, but we can merrily blind ourselves to this obvious reality because a small handful of major label mega-stars posted a record year (and the market - and its stats - is of course always the final guarantor of truth).