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BERGER: Scare stories about wine

It's hard to hear, yet again, about how even moderate amounts of alcohol can kill.

I've been writing about wine for nearly 37 years and the bearers of bad tidings have been haunting wine columnists for all that time. The word we all used in the late 1980s was neo-Prohibitionism, and the movement was rampant.

The late Dr. David Musto at Yale University wrote of neo-Prohibitionist movements in the United States and said they often were populated by people who thought they were doing good, but were misguided. Proof that banning all alcohol doesn't work was easily seen during the "great experiment" of 1919-1933 Prohibition that dramatically failed.

A report published last week seemed to be yet another in the scare stories that are a lot worse on the surface than experience shows us.

A supposedly carefully done study indicated that even modest use of alcohol may raise the risk of dying from cancer. But the way the stories I saw were written sounded a little fishy, if not downright misleading.

Take this phrase from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, speaking of moderate alcohol intake and that "those who consumed 1.5 beverages daily may account for up to a third of those deaths, the researchers found."

This phrase contains two "copy editor red flags."

The use of the word "may" implies "may not" as well. And the phrase "up to" implies "zero to." This is not exactly precise language to use in a story on a "scientific" report that offers such scare tactics.

The Chronicle article, rightly in my view, quoted Dr. Curtis Ellison, professor of medicine and public health at Boston University School of Medicine, as well as Dr. Arthur Klatsky, adjunct investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

Both had views that differed from the study and both said many people who consume wine moderately live longer (and happier?) lives.


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