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Johnson Fumbles Nutt Sack: Headlines, Drugs, and Politics

November 3, 2009

you're fired

You're fired!

Ok, lame pun, but you’re in the wrong place for maturity.

For those that don’t know I refer to the sacking by UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson of Professor David Nutt, from his post as chairman of the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).  He was sacked for openly criticizing the government’s drug policy in a lecture and subsequent article to clarify his position for being unscientific and political (which apparently was a secret). Specifically he suggested that an evidence based approach that prioritized harm reduction would suggest that alcohol and tobacco might rank as higher priorities than cannabis, ecstasy or LSD.

His sacking has potentially more concerning ramifications than simply bad punning, since suddenly many among the government’s scientific advisors are uttering a collective “WTF?” and demanding to know what exactly they are allowed to say about the scientific evidence in the media. Does being a government advisor preclude participating in the public debate?

The problem isn’t the scientists, it’s the politicians who feel they need to pander to reactionary morons like Melannie Phillips of the Daily Mail who are so attached to the idea that certain drugs are intrinsically “legal” and others “illegal” that they will throw their Merlot at anyone that says otherwise. She for instance she in her wisdom argued (I say argued, but perhaps shrieked would have been a better word) Professor Nutt’s actions were exactly like an:

adviser on climate change were to attack the Government for reducing carbon emissions because the effects of global warming had been exaggerated.

Im sorry what? In one case the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence would be against the advier, but in the other it is with them. Perhaps she meant exactly the opposite? And of course, the last recourse of the Daily Mail commentator in the face of evidence they don’t like? Deny it!

And just how rigorous is Nutt’s science anyway?

Well, maybe we should ask the government’s Chieft Scientific Advisor?

I think the scientific evidence is absolutely clear cut

Right you are then. Another superlative bit of journalism from the Daily Mail (though she does get points for repeatedly quoting from the ludicrously name Professor Parrot – what is it with these guy’s names?? – to say that ecstasy is bad for you…well duh).

Its people like Melanie Philipps that are the problem with the drugs debate (and that make this such a good suggestion) not Professor Nutt, because, to leave the last word to the man she called the Nutty Professor:

I think we have to accept young people like to experiment, and what we should be doing is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives. We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. We have to tell them the truth, so that they use us as their preferred source of information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you’re probably wrong.

Crazy fool.

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