The Loneliest Jukebox

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Friday, December 05, 2008

When junk food + social science = junk social science

Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours. Despite the geographical proximity, union-busting Epping Forest College is NOT a good neighbour.

Across the way, the war on fried chicken continues. No casualty figures yet, but the latest wheeze is a blatant piece of advocacy research (of the sort carried out by Barnardos that my colleague Brendan O'Neill exposed recently). The "hot food takeaways in Waltham Forest" questionnaire has two neutral questions about the role of the council in planning applications. Then come three kickers: Do you agree or disagree that planning applications for hot food takeaway shops in Waltham Forest should be managed to:

  • resist proposals that would cause an unacceptable risk of crime and antisocial behaviour?

  • ensure that they don't have an unacceptable impact on road safety?

  • ensure that they have good systems in place to deal with smells and waste?

In other words, three out of five questions invite respondents to side with the council in expanding its planning permission powers around a dietary social policy objective. Who is going to answer in ways that encourage more crime, traffic collisions and filth in the streets? Setting up the questionnaire this way means that the "research" can be used to rubber stamp an existing decision -- expressed in council leader Clyde Loakes' "war on fried chicken" that was declared well before the December closing date for survey returns.

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