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back to article Scientists flee Home Office after adviser sacking

The Home Office faces mass resignations by its consulting scientists after its clumsy gagging attempt on top drug adviser David Nutt. Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Nutt on Friday apparently for disagreeing with government policy, which has effectively ignored the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which …

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Principles

Scientists have heard of them.

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Legalise the lot

Look what Portugal did in 2001 on the advice of the experts - and drug use has gone down.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drug_policy_of_Portugal

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Wacqui & Johnson

Dumb & Dumber

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Paris Hilton

Irritatingly, though

A lot of the folk who vote believe the gooberment more than the scientists.

Just like PHBs believe sales droids more than their own tech staff during procurement.

PH because she's about as qualified to make decisions regarding drugs, and purchasing, as any politico.

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Anonymous Coward

Class War?

When I was at school, many years ago, one of the things we were taught was that drugs weren't always sensibly classified. And this was a state school teaching us this. It's one of the few things I specifically remember from those lessons.

Here's a question I'd like put to Alan Johnson. Given that ecstasy and heroin are both Class A, should young people take it that heroin isn't much worse than ecstasy? Or should they disregard the official classification and draw their own conclusions, as if they know better than the State? (Hint: you can't have ecstasy being nearly as bad as heroin at the same time as having heroin far, far worse than ecstasy. It would just be a contradiction.)

Let's make it multiple choice:-

A. Young people would be right to conclude that heroin isn't much worse than ecstasy.

B. Young people would be right to disregard the official classification.

Which is it, Alan Johnson?

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Grenade

Nutt et al should have known better...

This government doesn't want to hear truth, it wants you to fabricate your science to match policy.

We've already seen in what regard this government hold evidence, what with our new Guilty Until Proven Innocent "justice" system.

Grenade, to be thrown into the Commons, after locking all those scumbags in.

AC so I don't fall foul of government laws designed to terrorise...

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Tough on the truth

The last thing this government needs is honest advisors.

If people started telling te truth, the whole fabric of society would break down.

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Hmm...

The advisory council has lost their Chairman, head pharmacist and head chemist, they would appear to be pretty screwed.

So much for evidence based law making.

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Good!

Good to see that the scientists on the board are showing some balls. Mass resigning is the only way to go in these conditions. There are some huge problems in the relationship between lawmaking and actual reality, and I hope this event helps putting these issues under the spotlight.

The hypocrisy on evidence-based policy is simply staggering. The topic of drugs is one where the problem is especially egregious, but it's only an example of a wider systemic issue. What's the point of having a scientific advisory committee if its suggestions aren't even considered, even when they are supported by massive, overwhelming, undeniable reams of hard evidence?

If the only - not simply the "prime", but rather the *only* - motivator of policy is politics, and facts don't even enter the equation, then disbanding the scientific advisory committee is the only consistant thing to do.

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Anonymous Coward

hmm

Now the government will fill the council with the same yes men it uses on extreme and child pornography. Find an advisor that agrees with your opinion even if it's the only one in the land then promote their opinion as irrefutable fact.

It's funny that Labour promised they'd listen to their scientists and not have a repeat of the BSE affair (where scientist knew about it, told government, and were told to shut up and tell nobody) but hey ho, government only likes science when they're supporting their own pet projects. Making drawings the same as real images, snuffing out snuf that doesn't exist, and a few other things.

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When politicians think they know better

It really is time to get rid of them if they think they know better than the advisors who have studied the issues.

They are showing they've reached the stage where their policy decisions are not based on the subject matter, so must be based on their own desires. That can only be good for them and not for the rest of us.

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Fixed.it!

*The affair has raised the issue of government arrogance*

There fixed that for you.

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FAIL

And?

Is anyone surprised by anything this government does anymore? Despite my advancing years, and the old saw, I still have some slight left-wing leanings but this lot have redefined arrogant, insular, self-satisfied, etc.

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Dead Vulture

This is a title. Or is it?

"The Home Office said Nutt's comments undermined the role of the council and its scientific independence."

Surely by making it known to a wider audience that the council's report was actually different from the policy that was implemented, and was backed up by all that pesky evidence, then Nutt's comments are actually proving that the council are not just an academically qualified rubber stamp for government policy, which would seem to reaffirm it's scientific independence.

But since that's a logical conclusion to draw from this escapade, It's not surprising Johnson thinks the complete opposite.

Gravestone, because Evidence Based Policy Making has clearly been smoking lethal skunk, and died accordingly

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Anonymous Coward

Deeply suspicious

Alan Johnson was being regularly suggested as a potential replacement to Gordo. Why would he make such an outrageously stupid gaff like this when it can only be a matter of months before a leadership election is required?

Clearly (IMO), he's been forced to make a fool of himself so that nobody would treat him as a serious contender for the position of leader.

Two questions spring to mind:

1) Who is going to benefit from his apparent stupidity (who is being lined up for leader)?

2) What else is the government trying bury underneath this very public stupidity?

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Stop

Maybe I'm an idiot

but I'm also a scientist and I don't have a problem with the government on this. Well, maybe they were a bit heavy handed actually sacking an adviser, but apart from that they're quite entitled to ignore scientific advice.

They're politicians, remember, not scientists. Their job is to devise policies that are acceptable to the electorate... and the electorate are mostly not scientists either. You may regret that, but it's a fact that's unlikely to change any time soon and one that has to be respected in a democracy.

If you'd really like to see the scientific evidence reflected in policy, the place to start is by educating the electorate and convincing them that it makes more sense to ban horse riding than ecstacy.

Maybe you think that's quite a hard thing to do? Well so do the politicians, so you have that in common at least.

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Anonymous Coward

Kudos to the scientists

I like how the Home Office complains that Nutt "undermines policy" by stating what appears to be verifyable fact, the very thing science is there to do, and by extension any body setup to provide scientific advice to the government. Yes, you can quibble that he's actually lobbying, but that's painting him the same colour as you so if he's bad, so are you.

It's what you get for pretending to colour your policies to be fact-based by obtaining scientific fact based advice, ignoring it, and indeed going right ahead making policy completely contrary to the obtained advice. You can blame science, but all that does is paint you unscientific. That's not a problem unless you choose to make it one, by, oh, pretending to be scientifically backed by hiring scientists to advise you. Who's to blame for this again?

I only wish more scientists would do this, and I do hope the wider public gets the hint.

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Black Helicopters

Disgraceful behaviour - but what do you expect!

If you engage scientific advisors, then you really ought yo pay at least lip service to what they say.

It seems in the case of David Nutt, the government have decided on a policy without reference to the science, asked the Advisory Council for research figures to back it up, and then taken offence when the scientists fail to produce evidence to support the policy. The ill-informed minister(s) then try to discredit their own advisers by saying that the evidence that the board and particularly David Nutt present is an attempt to campaign against the policy.

FFS. Ask somebody you recognise as an expert for their thoughts, and at least respect the answers, even if yo do not follow their advice. All they had to say was "with respect to the evidence from the Advisory Council, we have decided that there are other factors that are more important", and hopefully quote the reasons.

David Nutt, as a good academic, drew a comparison with another statistic to provide a reference that the public could understand. It seems that Alan Johnson has promoted this to a Class issue by saying that this is wrong, because the rate of horse riding related deaths in his constituency is lower, mainly because he represents an area where horse riding is uncommon. This does not make the comparison invalid nationally, and is not grounds to accuse David Nutt of campaigning against government policy.

If the government wants a toady to support policy and never reveal counter-evidence, they need to either look elsewhere than UK academia for their advisers.

Or else, they could try to shape research by controlling budget allocation so that people with alternative viewpoints cannot get recognised and heard. Oops, that would be Climate Research then, not Drug research.

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Anonymous Coward

Avoiding the real issue...

...which is what the public will do to the politicians when it is suggested that alcohol and cigarettes carry a five year jail term.

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Anonymous Coward

RE:Deeply suspicious

"Why would he make such an outrageously stupid gaff like this when it can only be a matter of months before a leadership election is required?"

Election Timeline:

May 2010 - general election.

Tory win. This is not really open to debate anymore.

Day after general election:

Gordon Brown resigns as Party leader. Again this is standard form for outgoing PMs

A few days later:

New leader of Labour party elected.

4 years later:

Tory's win next general election. It is unlikely that they will lose, "Call me Dave" would have to screw up really, really badly.

The next day:

Leader of the opposition resigns after losing election to Tories. Someone else then replaces Nick "Dick" Griffin "FatNaziBastard" as leader of BNP.

At the same time the leader of the labour party also resigns and is replaced.

This is repeated again, I would assume that the third election is where Labour will have a reasonable chance of winning. That is when any prospective PM will be challenging, not for the next few years.

We tend to elect parties based on keeping the current one until they piss us off more than we remember the other lot pissing us off when we got rid of them. We then want a majority new leadership team from the last time that party was in power.

So realistically none of the Labour politicians you have heard of have any chance at ever being PM. Highly likely none of them will ever get a ministerial job after next May either.

So Alan "nearly as loony as Jacqui" Johnstone has nothing to lose politically, so my guess is he is angling for a job as an anti-drugs spokesman or a columnist for one of the extreme papers like the Mail (or even a Fox News type spot once Davey C. relaxes the broadcasting rules) after next year.

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Coat

Unstoppable forces and unmoveable objects

This spat boils down to a simple disparity -

1) The scientists saying what is good or bad for us, ranking according to scientific measures

2) The nanny state deciding what is good or bad for us in its moral judgement

What it highlights is that government moral judgement and laws deriving from that often have little to do with science, and more particularly, little to do with facts and evidence - but that's to be expected from control freaks who live by the ethos of FUD.

What's at stake here is not 'science' but far bigger; exposure of the government's hypocritical stance and arbitrary moralising. Heaven forbid that they be seen as a Big Brother state imposing rules and obligations that have no rationality !

Many ( a big cheer for El Reg commentators ) have recognised where New Labour seems to be heading, but many others haven't or refuse to recognise the evidence. So a big round of applause to Nutt and colleagues for their stance and bringing the issue to a wider audience.

Mine's the one with three litres of dark rum, a kilo of baccy and an eight of cannabis in the pocket.

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Alert

Serious threat

For a government to ignore scientists, is business as usual, but for them to try and censor and influence them is seriously worrying. Ignorance is one thing, we are used to it in politicians, but telling scientists they will get fired for drawing correct conclusions that don't toe the party line....this is really bad. Next they'll be telling the media what to do, then we're next.

Note to politicians, if you don't like a scientific finding, ignore it, gloss over it, deny it and use your politicial skills to convince us that scientists are stupid, but don't fire scientists for doing good science.

BTW I have no personal agenda here, I would fight for my right to drink beer with mates, but all other drugs, not a fan. Sugar, caffeine and booze, fine, but synthetic, mind altering medication that encourages young people to medicate themselves into a good time....

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A ratchet job

Politicians only want to hear scientific facts when they support the agenda of making everything illegal, taxable, hazardous or socially unacceptable. When scientists say "well, actually it's not that bad" that undermines the politicos' goal to control anything that might lead to fun or freedom. In that way advice is only used when it serves to decrease freedoms and personal liberties.

What would be very interesting is if (ex) scientific advisors were called as expert witnesses in drugs trials and stated there was no reason for a substance to be illegal as it was less harmful than other, legal, substances.

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@Werner McGoole

The home secretary is free to ignore expert advice and prove himself an idiot - if he's paid for it out of his own pockets (and not expensed it!).

If my tax money gets spent on setting up a council of people who actually know what they're talking about, then I want that advice followed.

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Anonymous Coward

Expert Evidence

This government's approach to evidence can be seen in their approach to the justification for the Iraq war (I know that was under Tony Blair, but Gordon Brown was there too). Evidence was seen to be something to be massged and presented in the best possible light to justify a decision that Tony Blair had already taken on his infamous sofa politics. Alastair Campbell chaired the meeting with civil servants to review the Iraq dossier to make sure it said the right things.

If you want an insight into what is happening with modern British politics and the undermining of the independence of the Civil Service and other institutions, then try reading "The Triumph of the Political Class" by Peter Oborne. You can now see the result of what that strange bunch of students who got involved with politics in the 1970s, The rest of us were busy getting drunk, paying some attention to our studies or doing other normal student things - in the meantime this lost were involved in the type of internal politicing and manouvering that has put us in the situation we are now.

It's looking like Cameron is going down this path too - there are plans for business involvement to reform the Civil Service which is a smoke screen for making it more directly a function of the political, rather than administrative machine. The irony is that back in the 1960s the main political parties had mass membership. Now they are a class alien to most of the population and brought about by the career politicians.

This stuff is important - if the independence of instituions is challenged, then we can expect the academic circules to be next on the line. Already we have the unedifying site of several well-known academics sitting in the House of Lords as political nominees and taking the relevant part whips.

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M7S
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Joke

It is mostly becuause they are arrogant idiots

They'll be trying to repeal other politically inconvenient laws next.

I wouldn't bank on Asimov's laws of Robotics being implemented for government death-tech, and recent pronouncements on how we will power this island using nothing more than the odd offshore breeze show that the laws on the conservation of energy and related topics appear to have been repealed by Statutory Instrument.

In anticipation of new transport initiatives, I expect Newtonian Physicists will be quitely tethering themselves to something sturdy, just in case.

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Boffin

@AC 11:31

Even better, the scientists were providing verifiable facts by verifiable methods; you could go check their numbers and sources- even start off with your own dataset and apply their methods to it to check that it wasn't just a fluke.

It's proper science, which interestingly enough gives them the moral high ground over the people who are trying to legislate morality through lies and deceit...

@AC 11:04 please don't mention that again- you'll have Johnson creating "Class A+" for Heroin and cannabis...

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Anonymous Coward

Prohibitionists and Anti-Prohibitionists Uniting Against the Government?

Is it just me, or are the government managing to unite prohibitionists and anti-prohibitionists against them?

It's like there are now three groups:-

1. Mainstream prohibitionists. Drugs are bad, they must be banned, blah blah blah.

2. Anti-prohibitionists. Prohibition doesn't work, it's a part of the problem, blah blah blah. (Can you tell which one I am?)

3. The lunatic fringe, including the Labour government, the Conservative opposition, and, I presume, without having actually checked, the Daily Mail.

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IT Angle

You are

all missing the point here

The government's drug policy is not about if this drug is bad or that drug is worse

Its about gaining the votes of B3 to C2 class voters in the 50 or so swing constitences as these are the voters that will decide who runs the country for the next 5 years.

What the government should do is legalise cannabis, but with the same restrictions as tobacco

and supply a decent quality heroin free for registered drug addicts with the offer of help coming off the stuff.

But then that will knock a big hole in crime statistics thus removing the need for ever more CCTV and all the other stuff needed for their coming police state.

IT angle..... I'm sure some GUI's have been designed by people stoned out of their heads........

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Anonymous Coward

I take it from comments above...

... that all the scientist hating climate-change-deniers are out to lunch at the moment ... or just don't read drugs threads.

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Grenade

Voter Apathy

The Gov't behaves like this and then wonder why so many people have lost the will to vote,Nutt's been sacked as he called out the Gov't and their complete ignorance/arrogance in the face of irrefutable eveidence, and they of course, have no counter arguement.

Here's a question I'd like to ask Mr Johnson; When you've proven to the nation that goverment policy is merely what Gov't thinks is best and not representative or even backed up by any truth whatsoever, how will you react when people stop listening and subsequently stop obeying?

This kind of politics is dangerous in that it just goes to show neither plod nor gov't can be trusted to be truthful regarding matters of law, they're undermining public trust all on their own - they are the domestic extremists.

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No surprise

I should think 130,000 Royal Mail staff could tell you about a right "royal" shafting from A Johnson during his tenure in charge of the CWU, from which stems the current problems

No matter how many time you bleach it, an asshole is still an asshole, or if your prefer arsehole, depends on your terminology.

Still whichever way it is, however you cut this one A Johnson is still the excrement server.

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Flame

Government playing politics with lives

It's the government that is playing politics, not the scientist. If they had just said, "Thank you for the science.", and left it at that there would not be a problem. But to explicitly state that ecstasy and pot are as bad as actual harmful drugs and change the law to agree with that lie is very wrong.

The minister could easily have said that social factors (The Mail headlines) and politics (voter opinions) were more important than the science and everybody would have just known it was the usual spin.

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Alert

So popular opinion counts over facts?

Well Popular opinion is that ALL MP's are lying thieving scum...

oh, so do the facts... erm, sorry..

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@Werner

The point with the drug classification system is that it was specifically set up in 1971 to be classified on the science - not political opinion. If the Government actually changed the terms of reference to include polictical opinion - then and only then would King and Nutt be in the wrong.

Nutt was actually quoting from one of their own reports - no where was it part of their remit to take into account political (or tabloid) opinion when make recommendations.

Alan Johnsons response is typical of this Government - shoot the messenger when they dont agree with you and have the temerity to repeat this in public.

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Megaphone

You get what you vote for!

One day they will change the political system so that at least one minister in each department is a proper expert on what happens in that department. Until then, politicians will continue to make decisions based on anything except what the experts in that department actually advise them to do.

Ignoring advisors and civil servants has been going on for a long time and if government policies (or lack of!) are anything to go by these days then it is clear that the people at the top are becoming increasingly stupid and incompetent.

Or if you believe that policy is made by lobbyists then who successfully lobbied Johnson to ignore the advisors and make sure cannabis has more appeal thus increase the sales? Come on you drug barons, step out into the limelight and declare your 'contributions' to the Labour party!

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Pint

That's cos drugs are not taxed

The reason the gov't is sticking to its stance is simply because it taxes alcohol and fags, and it doesn't tax cannabis and e (and would find it politically unacceptable to do so).

If it officially accepted that cannabis and e were less harmful than either alcohol or fags (even if it's blindingly obvious to most people, and scientifically provable), then it would put into question it's whole taxation plan - ie - how can it condone (which is effectively what it is doing by taxing it) alcohol consumption and yet at the same time make illegal something which is demonstrably much less harmful (ie - cannabis).

It just goes to show what a two-faced bunch of money-obsessed idiots they all are.

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jsp

Re: Class War

Good point, well made.

Unfortunately, I think this government would probably like to make _all_ drugs Class A (and maybe borrow some ideas from Singapore or Saudi Arabia). They are all evil.

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FAIL

Sponsoring crime

When drugs are criminalised, criminals make money. Lots of it. Organised crime is very happy to support those lobbying for stricter controls. It's a huge industry and should be treated as such.

At the sharp end of this business are the victims of burglary and robbery, and higher prices for many goods and services due to theft and fraud committed to feed addictions. Any government that's serious about crime would be serious about choking off the supply of money to criminal enterprise. That means decriminalising where practical, and introducing walk-in centres for addicts to obtain fixes.

Then perhaps our jails wouldn't be quite so full with addicts and there'd be scope to increase the lengths of prison sentences to levels that offered greater protection to the public.

It must be soul-destroying for police offers to catch people who have caused harm and distress, knowing the offenders will soon be released to reoffend.

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Anonymous Coward

Its Ecstasy not Ecstacy you drug addled morons

great article though.

just saw some debate on telly about advisors having to toe line etc - but it was NuLab who trumpeted their "evidence based policy", right?

looks like the advisors are doing their job then.

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Badgers

At least the only sacked him...

He could have "commited suicide".

Sounds like he was lucky

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The losing side of a lose/lose argument

Whilst it hasn't been handle that well by the Home Sec. (ok massive understament) he had a choice between :

a) upset a few scientist that no-one had heard of

b) have tabloid headlines reading 'Government wants to let kiddies take drugs in the playground'

Being a politician not wanting to upset middle England taking option a is a no-brainer. Of course a really smart politico could have published the advice, used it to spark debate to change drug policy and upset almost no-one. Pity we don't have smart politicians.

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Jaw
Megaphone

Who really benefits?

I wonder which firm paid Wacky Jacky, Alan Knobson and labour to enforce such an ignorant policy, maybe the drug testing industry or maybe the drug companies that synthesise THC for 'supposed' medical use. Hmomfg!

I remember hearing the cannabis actually contains an anti-psychotic chemical which is know as CBD, if they want to curb any possible trouble with high THC and low CBD (which can cause troubles and is occurring in stronger strains of cannabis), then consider the legalisation to control this, it currently being illegal is like create a downward spiral of ignorance!

Also, controlling this substance would also HELP prevent under 16s getting their mitts on the substance which is proven to cause long term effects on the under-developed brain, but in adults this does not occur in most cases.

Gosh! Even the USA are starting to wake up on this front...

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Anonymous Coward

erm

I have to say, as much as i disagree with the policy, the only thing the government have done "wrong" is to not only have a go at one of their advisors in public (and lose badly, as they always do, see any of the treasury select commit hearings were Mervin King is speaking for other examples) but to then fire him.

The govenment is well with in its rights to ignore any and all advice given to it, and by the sounds of things, quite often does.

Drugs, should be legal, but they wont be, because the vast majority of them would have to be imported, which means somebody else, in this case south american and isamlic countries, would have control of the supply, the government dosnt want that, it scares them.

I mean drugs are so obivously bad, you always see people having fights and being sick in the gutter every friday and saturday night due to over indulgence in drugs. Such a shame what these drugo's do to our city centres at the weekend, makes us look bad in front of the rest of teh EU.

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Hey, lets ALL resign and maybe...

...just maybe, the politico's will stop telling us we are only pissed-off because of their expenses.

...maybe, they will start working FOR us.

...maybe, they'll act with (a) honesty (b) common sense (c) on real evidence (d) with balls.

Nah, that's all just dreams. I doubt they could manage even one of them!

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Boffin

@Pete 2

The ironic thing, though, is that at the moment Goverment has to spend lots of money fighting drugs, and on the effects of illegal use, while making lots of money from the taxes on Alcohol and Tobacco....

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FAIL

@Werner McGoole

As I understand it the Advisory Committes is supposed to grade the drugs on the harm they do. That is not political or government policy 'merely' an assessment of scientific evidence.

What the government chooses to do with it is political/policy and they may choose to punish possession of the least harmful drugs with the death penalty if that is the way they want to go. They could even allow possession of the most harmful drugs to have no punishment whatsoever. That is all within their remit.

However it is not their remit to claim that they are acting on evidence when they ignore recommendations from people who know what they are talking about.

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Boffin

Jaqui Spliff

This has been grinding my gears since Jaqui Spliff appeared on question time last week.

Unsurprisingly the discussion turned to expenses in which she said that she followed the advice of those experts advising her, when milking the system for every penny the thieving <deleted for politeness sake> could get from it.

But of course... when it came to this, she was doing the duty of a minister which is to make decisions no matter what formal advice she receives... cos she knows best (OK I'm paraphrasing there).

I wish she'd make her mind up! Either she follows expert advice or ignores it blatantly!

Oh HOW SILLY of me! - The advice given by these experts doesnt doesnt result in her pockets being lined so she of course is free to do whatever the chuff she likes...

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The public don't want evidence based policy

The ministers ignore evidence based reasoning because it isn't what the voting public want. In the MMR vaccine scare, there was no evidence that it caused autism yet the public wanted MMR vaccine withdrawn because they believed it did. The scare did not exist in any other country. The public want to be scared, not governed by evidence based policy.

MMR was not withdrawn because the health minister listened to the doctors. I guess the ministers are too exhausted to fight this one.

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