Data, Drinking, and Boston: The Stupid Ranking Edition

Apparently, if the high-profile, exhaustively peer-reviewed journal Men’s Health [/snark] is to be believed, Boston is the least boozy city in the country (italics mine):

Fresno, Calif., tops Men’s Health magazine’s list of America’s “drunkest” cities while Boston, home to the “Cheers” bar where everyone knows your name, was deemed the “least drunk,” besting even Salt Lake City.
The magazine, which will publish the list of 100 major cities in i’s March edition, drew upon such data as death rates from alcoholic liver disease, booze-fueled car crashes, frequency of binge-drinking in the past month, number of DUI arrests, and severity of DUI penalties.

New York City is #8, and nobody drinks there. Ever. Chicago and San Francisco rank in the top sixth. Light drinking towns both.
This is a somewhat trivial case of not understanding the limitations of your data.

Three of the five listed metrics involve driving. In Boston, as in NYC, many people don’t own a car (~40% in Boston, greater than fifty percent in NYC). There’s also extensive mass transit, not only in the city, but to and from the city. So, if you’re using drunk driving as an indicator, of course these cities are going to score well–there’s relatively little drinking and driving (as opposed to just drinking). DUI penalties don’t really seem to be relevant either: even if someone is worried about being caught, they’re probably not engaging in legal calculus while doing so. This seems largely irrelevant to drinking.
Finally, alcoholic liver disease is correlated with poverty. While all cities have pockets, sometimes large ones, of poverty*, the cities that score well are relatively affluent compared to most of the ‘hard-drinking’ cities. This is a poverty-related metric, not a consumption based one.
How hard would it have been to figure out gallons of booze consumed per capita, especially since most alcohol sales are regulated, in one way or another?
You have to understand the limitations of your data.
*While gentrification–that is, high income inequality coupled with competition for the mostly inelastic good of housing–is an issue, no one ever seems upset with our de facto policy of forcing cities to serve as warehouses for the poor. This phenomenon is, to a considerable extent, driven by suburban zoning policies.

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2 Responses to Data, Drinking, and Boston: The Stupid Ranking Edition

  1. Eric Lund says:

    And what methodology generated that list? There are exactly 100 cities on the list, but it’s not the 100 largest cities as it includes Billings, MT (in the top ten “drunkest” cities) and Cheyenne, WY (in the high teens).
    Also, some of the commenters on the story noted that Fresno puts significant effort into DUI enforcement, while other commenters claimed that the attitude in Rochester, NY (which is in the top ten least drunk cities) is along the lines of “Just don’t crash on your way home.” So even among cities where you pretty much have to get around by car the DUI arrest rate isn’t all that reliable an indicator.

  2. Rob Monkey says:

    Ha, love a good rip on Men’s Health. I used to get it free after I bought some long unremembered product, and was astounded at how unbelievably shitty it was. Aside from their die-hard stance that all men should be able to drive stick shift (damn straight), it was nothing more than the typical NEW MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH crap you see in every grocery store magazine. For some reason they were obsessed with the “networking businessman” type as well, so half their articles were about a profession I found boring and obnoxious. And just like most women figure out about Cosmo, it repeated itself about every 4-6 months. Oh yeah, and I got a little tired of having large glossy photos of shirtless men all over my apartment; I was interested in Men’s Health, not Men’s Bodies, thank you very much. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . .)

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