British scientists analyze James Bond’s alcohol consumption, dub him “The Man With the Golden Liver”
by Sal Robinson
Three British scientists recently took it upon themselves to conduct an extremely serious investigation into James Bond’s alcohol consumption habits, with a particular focus on whether his famous “shaken, not stirred” line could, perhaps, refer to an alcohol-induced tremor.
Graham Johnson, Indra Neil Guha, and Patrick Davies published their results of their research in the British Medical Journal last week. Their conclusion?
James Bond’s weekly alcohol intake is over four times the advisable maximum alcohol consumption for an adult male…. Although we appreciate the societal pressures to consume alcohol when working with international terrorists and high stakes gamblers, we would advise Bond be referred for further assessment of his alcohol intake and reduce his intake to safe levels.
The scientists analyzed Bond’s drinking habits by reading all fourteen of the original Fleming books, noting each instance of alcohol consumption (type and amount), factoring in the days that Bond was unable to drink (because of incarceration, or other spying-related infirmities), and calculating how many units 007 soaked up.
It turns out to be a whopping 92 units a week, with a high point on day 3 of From Russia With Love, when Bond drank 49.8 units in one single day. In comparison, the National Health Service recommends that an adult male should drink no more than 21 units per week.
Bond’s levels of imbibation bring, in the trio’s view, his ability to perform his International Man of Mystery duties into question: is it really possible that a man this drunk this often could remain “the best shot in the Secret Service”? “Unless this refers to shots of various spirits, this assertion is likely to be pure fantasy,” they write.
Furthermore, his legendary sexual prowess seems, if not suspiciously exaggerated, at least endangered by his Category 3 drinking: the authors caution that “he is also at high risk of suffering from sexual dysfunction, which would considerably affect his womanising.”
It also puts him at risk for a panoply of other health issues, including “malignancies, depression, hypertension, and cirrhosis.” Though the medical professionals acknowledge that Bond may already be fairly phlegmatic about his chances of living past 45 (the age of mandatory retirement from the “00” section of MI6), and, in terms of determining appropriate controls for the study, “data on the average life expectancy of real world secret agents are, not surprisingly, difficult to find.”
They’re not optimistic about his chances of dodging an alcohol-related end, though, and suspect Bond may have been set on his dangerous path early on.
An analysis by the website businessinsider.com, however, showed that actually bartenders and shoe-machine operators had the highest alcohol related deaths. They identified that sailors were the sixth highest risk, with a relative risk of 1.75 for an alcohol related death. Bond was, first and foremost, a sailor, so his drinking habits might have their root in his original profession.
It must be said, however, that Johnson, Guha, and Davies appear to have a pre-existing bias, and one so fundamental that their very ability to assess their findings objectively could have been fatally compromised: they don’t believe vodka martinis should be shaken.
These “Stir-ists” proceed therefore from the unstated but pervasive assumption that Bond knows nothing about spirits, that he is no connoisseur but merely a garden-variety alcoholic, and that in fact his celebrated preference is a sorry attempt to mask his shame: in short, “whether he might have been unable to stir his drinks because of the persistent shaking of alcohol induced tremor, making it more socially acceptable to ask for his drinks ‘shaken, not stirred.’”
This is clearly bunkum.
But, in the end, one must at least grudgingly concede that their paper is an important contribution to Martini Science—at least as significant as New York Times critic Eric Asimov’s 80-martini lunch in 2007. Oh, pioneers!
Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.