Imagine that you were the Chief Science Adviser for a Ministry. You need to produce a short briefing note to the new government for some issue in your Ministry’s remit.
Your Ministry had, just a couple weeks earlier, released a comprehensive report on the topic that your Ministry had commissioned from a top economics consultancy. Your Ministry had had the report since August, but had only just released it.
What the hell must be going through your head if your briefing note to the Prime Minister via the office of the government’s Chief Science Adviser presents the opposite conclusion to the commissioned study and doesn’t even mention that the commissioned study exists?!
So Peter Gluckman was on Radio New Zealand a while back. He talked about mounting evidence for sugar taxes. I’d heard him on the radio and wondered what the heck he was on about, but he’s always had a soft spot for sugar taxes and never seemed to understand the economics around it.
But Nick Jones at the Herald followed up with an OIA request asking what he was basing things on.
And his office provided a two-page document produced by the Ministry of Health’s Chief Science Adviser, Dr John Potter, summarising his views on sugar taxes. It was a very cursory document – tons of bullet points saying things like “Recent studies from Berkeley”, so it’s hard to tell which ones he’s talking about.
But his note to the Prime Minister is dated 16 February.
The NZIER report on sugar taxes, which said that most of the studies in the area are terrible but the ones that are sound find that the effects of sugar taxes on consumption are too small to have any plausible health effects, came out in January. It came out after I’d OIAed it from the Ministry – the Ministry had been sitting on it since August.
And Potter didn’t even see fit to tell the Prime Minister, in his memo on sugar taxes, that a comprehensive report commissioned by his Ministry reached the opposite conclusion to his two-page list of bullet points.
Just amazing. I can’t imagine that Potter wouldn’t have known about the NZIER study.
Anyway, Nick Jones got in touch with me yesterday asking for comment on Potter’s two pages of bullet points; I had a chat with Hosking about it this morning (Sept 14) as well.
In the prior OIA stuff, Potter’s a big fan of sugar taxes – and completely fails to understand John Gibson’s work. But all that to one side: if you’ve got a report your Ministry commissioned and you disagree with it, better practice would be to note its existence and why you disagree with it rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Yeesh.
NB: Potter’s note is dated 16 February – I’d updated in the original post at Offsetting. The NZIER report was released under OIA on 31 January and had been received by the Ministry on 4 August 2017. So Potter’s 2-pager is dated 17 days after the release of the NZIER report.
Dr Eric Crampton is chief economist with the corporate think tank the New Zealand Initiative and creator of the blog Offsetting Behaviour. The initiative was formed in 2012 with the merger of the former Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute.