It has been worrying me for a while. What do you do when there appears to be a big contradiction between a fundamental belief of yours and the behavior of bunch of people you really admire?
The easiest solution is to keep your head down, and hope it all blows away.
Which is pretty much what I have done, apart from a tweet or two, in the big debate over the SA Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR) and its funding by Coca Cola.
Some hysterical hype-prone journalist (aren’t we all?) sparked the controversy, with a piece revealing that the SAIRR, which had produced a report condemning the planned sugar tax, was being funded by the most evil of the sugar pimps – Coca Cola.
The conclusion drawn by many is that the SAIRR report was crap, the Sugar Tax must be introduced, and the SAIRR is so compromised it could take over the running of the SABC.
I, on the other hand, would prefer to take all of this with a pinch of salt.
As any informed person will know, think tanks like the SAIRR depend on donations to function. As the Coca Cola people are operating as a legitimate, tax-paying business (I hope) there is nothing wrong with them funding the SAIRR.
Does this mean that sugar research conducted by the SAIRR is tainted? It might be – if the institution were not run by people of the highest integrity. Its boss Frans Cronje is one of the most impressive individuals with whom I have ever engaged, was a regular guest when I anchored a successful radio show, and remains a highly respected commentator on the troubles of this troubled country.
It is utter crap to suggest that he would ever allow the research of the SAIRR to be tainted or purchased by the soft drink barons of Atlanta.
If an SAIRR report says the sugar tax will not do much to improve health, but will be a sneaky way for government to further pick our pockets, that is good enough for me.
So, what lessons are there in all this?
It may be that the SAIRR was naive, and should have been more upfront about its funding, better at realising the political sensitivity of the sugar debate. I remember when my economist hero Tony Twine wrote a report on fracking, which I seem to recall had been funded by Shell, this was seized upon by the greenies, who suggested the funding made the research invalid. What Bollocks.
However, I am sure that in future there will be more transparency about research funding, despite the risks of the abuse of such info by vested interests and even by interests who don’t wear vests, and that this will prevent mischievous journos (aren’t we all?) from writing naughty pieces.
And maybe, just maybe, South Africa’s business and diplomatic communities should become a bit more appreciative of SA’s truly independent research institutions, should better fund them, transparently, and enable them to better demonstrate their independence from any one source of support.
For my part, I shall continue to oppose the sugar tax. Once again it is an example of the bullying nanny state pretending to look after our best interests while grabbing our sweet money and kicking sand in our faces.
Tweet of the Day:
Shit Jokes (@ShitJokes): I had sex with a hooker last night. I must have been pissed. I can’t even remember going into the rugby club..
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