What One Learns By Studying Studies about Drinking

To answer the question, What happens when people drink alcohol? one can read through thousands of research studies published in respected scholarly journals. One must look a bit harder to answer a different question: What, exactly, did some of those researchers hope to learn by doing that research?

Let’s take a quick hop through the literature in one publication – the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, which boasts of being “the oldest alcohol/addiction research journal currently published in the United States”. It started life in 1940 as the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, then adjusted and re-adjusted its name as research funders changed their focus or preferred vocabulary.

A study called Observational Study of Alcohol Consumption in Natural Settings; the Vancouver Beer Parlour appeared in a 1975 issue. Authors Ronald Cutler and Thomas Storm, at the University of British Columbia, say they visited “approximately 25” Vancouver beer parlours, wherein they observed the patrons. They distill what they learned into three thoughts…

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.