tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

Hard Nutt to crack

David Nutt has been sacked. Who the hell is David Nutt? Well, he WAS the chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in England. Now, he's an independent scientist who knows a hell of a lot on the topic of drug use and misuse and is extremely well-respected in the community, and has a big mouth.

This is the guy who was behind EQUASY - A harmful addiction, which upset the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, possibly in the same way the dihydrogen monoxide thing bothered Jacqui Dean here (hey maybe there's something in a name!). Anyway, in the study he compared the risks associated with horse riding against those associated with use of various drugs, and found that ecstasy was less dangerous than horse riding. Politicians were not impressed. Everyone else was. One of the things that impressed me about this, and the document that got him sacked, is that he raises questions around the way the debate is framed, who gets to decide that, and why - which is one of my fields of interest in the construction of knowledge.

Here's the document that got him sacked. It is pretty critical of the government's approach, but it doesn't say anything that can't be backed with evidence - and importantly, suggests a way forward for cutting the politics out of the drugs debate and moving towards policy being evidence-based, along with educating the public so that they actually know what they're voting on. But of course, politicians don't want to be cut out, and an educated public is dangerous, so sacking the person speaking out is the best policy they can come up with. Only..

Seems other scientists on the council have resigned as well. One of them has come out and said that instead of advising the government on policy, the council is now being asked to 'rubber stamp a pre-determined position', and that the panel needs to be free from government interference to operate effectively. The criticisms of the government from within the council are coming out, the government's coming back by saying "He criticised the government. That crossed a line!" So, um.. a member of an independent advisory body can now be sacked for criticising the group it's advising for ignoring the advice repeatedly for no justifiable reason? Hmm.

Y'know, part of me thinks this is a good thing, in that it'll get a lot more people reading that paper. It's created a martyr, and martyrs tend to crystallise action. It's focused public attention on the debate, and free speech being muzzled by politicians and them then being exposed for it, is a great way of getting that speech heard. And now Professor Nutt is free to say whatever he likes without having to temper it with diplomacy.

On the downside, if every decent brain in that council quits because the government doesn't listen, or on principle, or for whatever reason, there'll be no council, only politicians, and then they can go loose with their ill-informed morally-based policy. Oh fun.

Facebook group supporting Dr Nutt's reinstatement. Don't know how much use it'll be, but gathering like-minded people together is always interesting.
Tags: dr nutt, evidence based policy please, government gags geeks, shooting self in foot much?
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