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, …

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  1. Evil Graham
    Thumb Up

    Principles

    Scientists have heard of them.

  2. Kevin Bailey

    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

  3. H2Nick

    Wacqui & Johnson

    Dumb & Dumber

  4. The Original Ash
    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.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  7. Fred 1

    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.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    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.

  9. Filippo
    Thumb Up

    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.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  11. Tom_

    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.

  12. Da Weezil

    Fixed.it!

    *The affair has raised the issue of government arrogance*

    There fixed that for you.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Anonymous Coward
    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

  16. Anonymous Coward
    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?

  17. Werner McGoole
    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.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  22. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    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.

  23. rhydy
    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....

  24. Pete 2 Silver badge

    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.

  25. Burkhard Kloss

    @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.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  27. M7S
    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.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  30. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    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........

  31. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  32. Adam Salisbury
    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.

  33. Neal 5

    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.

  34. Nomen Publicus
    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.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    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..

  36. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    @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.

  37. Desk Jockey
    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!

  38. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  39. 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.

  40. Richard Boyce
    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.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  42. Gordon Pryra
    Badgers

    At least the only sacked him...

    He could have "commited suicide".

    Sounds like he was lucky

  43. Gordon is not a Moron

    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.

  44. 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...

  45. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  46. Chris Green

    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!

  47. The First Dave Silver badge
    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....

  48. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    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...

  50. Matthew Greet

    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.

  51. fifi
    Grenade

    bums?

    it's like Johnson just asked the political and drug related equivalent of "Does my bum look big in this?"

    grenade: Guy Fawkes, where are you now, we need you.

  52. Francis Vaughan

    @ Maybe I'm an idiot

    "Their job is to devise policies that are acceptable to the electorate."

    No it isn't. This is the disease of the modern age where politicians only care about the next election. The idea once was that you voted for those that you trusted to run the country. Not unless there is a single dominant issue at a poll, and a single issue party do you vote for a particular policy.

    The government's job is to run the country as best possible. Once every few years they submit the quality of that to the people. They are not elected to implement the majority will of the people as determined by some idiotic poll or the most strident voice of the media on each individual policy. Nor should they ever be held to such an idea. A statesman makes unpopular decisions for the good of a country. A politician makes popular decisions to the detriment of the country. There is a reason why elections are years apart.

    Clearly the current UK government has gone so far away from statesmanship that they are little more than a pale shadow of what any citizen, no matter what political leaning, should reasonably expect.

  53. This post has been deleted by its author

  54. Tim Jenkins

    Mr. Mackey to replace David Nutt?

    "Drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs. If you do them, you’re bad, because drugs are bad. It’s a bad thing to do drugs, so don’t be bad by doing drugs, m’kay, that’d be bad."

    There ya go; recent, in-depth research* supporting the current Government line. Easy.

    * i.e. I just looked him up on Wikipedia...

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    More...

    Yet more evidence of why the *have* to go...the lot...no matter the colour...no matter the creed...remove them now...save ourselves :)

    Join with the rest of us. We do not need to march on Central Square or High Street and ask for permission to be humans. We don’t need to ask, like children in a classroom; if we want to organise as pro human, we can just do it!

    So stay away from the lying politicians.

    Avoid the armed guards.

    Stay clear of the police.

    Join together and make a better place.

  56. codemonkey
    Thumb Up

    Donations..

    I'll donate 10 or 20 quid if everyone else will. Give these heros who have a conscience a stop gap money supply!

  57. Ocular Sinister
    Pint

    Tories would be better?

    While I am completely shocked and dismayed by this, I don't think the Tories would have done much different. Our political system is so stuffed now that we get to choose the colour of their tie but the LaboraTory policies remained the same ill thought out centre right policies that have been screwing us over for the last 30 years.

    A pint to drown my increasing despair that we're going to vote for another centre right parliamentary dictatorship come spring next year.

  58. Bassey

    Big Balls Up

    The problem here is nothing to do with "gagging" or any of that crap. If he's been gagged, how come he was on National Television news, openly criticising government policy? The problem was that he did so whilst being a government advisor - so he had to go.

    The other huge balls-up was that the government wanted to raise the classification of cannabis. Rather than going about this the adult way and saying, right 2/3 of the country are against drugs, this is a political decision so we are going to go ahead, they asked a panel of experts. If you've already decided to do something (for entirely legitimate reasons) you are only shooting yourself in the foot if you then demand others create evidence to back it up. It was unnecessary and bound to backfire on them.

    Still, I don't think he'll be too disappointed. He wasn't getting paid anyway and now all the papers are queuing up to pay him for his "Story".

  59. Neil Stansbury
    FAIL

    Tough on the truth..

    Tough on the causes of truth.

    Facts - yeah we've heard of 'em.

  60. Evil Graham

    @Werner

    You made a good point about the electorate being difficult to convince on the issue of drug risk. I think this is largely due to the reactionary press, which loves to stir things up with "Reefer Madness" style headlines.

    But that's no excuse for bottling it. Trying to keep the press happy hasn't done the present government any favours at all, so what have they got to lose?

  61. Lawrence 7

    Dicks.

    This Story makes me Angry. A waste of everyones passion and time.

    What would happen if we switched the system around and science and evidence ruled over made up policy and side agendas?

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Advisers, not commanders

    This is a committee of ADVISERS, not controllers or dictators. Advice is heard in context and applied.or not in context, in this case, the context of Realpolitik. Actually, the committee's assessment of the evidence is hotly debated by specialists in statistical analysis (sadly, I have not got the reference to hand, if I find the details again I shall post them) and the committee itself is not immune to bias, mistakes, misinterpretation of figures. Even if right, the chairman of such a committee should not go shouting his mouth off to the media in a fit of pique, so destroying all trust in both directions. In my professional experience, no formal body, whether private or public, would tolerate that. It is nothing to do with free speech.

    The role of elected governments is to make decisions based on many factors, of which some specialist advice is just part, not binding and not necessarily right. Hey, war is pretty unhealthy and endless specialists can give good evidence to that effect. On the other hand, sometimes the consequences of avoiding war or even preparations for it are worse e.g. British pacifism in the 1930's encouraging Nazi Germany to develop unhindered.

    Anecdotally, via an ill daughter, visits to her in mental hospitals and casual observation of all too many cannabis-taking "youngsters" on Swiss train a couple of years ago, I side with the government (the SBB, the Swiss train authority, before banning smoking altogether, announced publicly that they would ignore cannabis smoking in the smoking carriages of their trains. The predictable result showed me and others exactly why cannabis is not a free ride to happiness, health and success. One can speak to psychiatric nurses, teachers and others; I believe even Amsterdam has had some second thoughts, at least in regards to those who must do serious jobs such as police and army).

    One wonders what "safety" means in this context. Who on earth compares being thrown from a horse in physical sport with smoking? What are the comparable figures for psychosis (other than through physical trauma of course)? Why should the problems of tobacco or excessive alcohol (sadly sanctified by tradition) justify the toleration of any other idiocy? Anyway, tobacco is rapidly becoming less socially acceptable, both through legal and societal attitudes.

    Some say, "It is so widespread, just accept it as the social norm." Wonderfull, violence at football matches, night clubs etc. is so widespread, it is the social norm, so just accept it. Theft and murder have been with us since man existed - so decriminalise it.

  63. BlueGreen

    I looked at the best rated comments on times/guardian/sun on this story

    Both the times and guardian said pretty well what's been said here, that stupid decision making sucks. I'd wondered what the other end of the spectrum would offer and consulted the sun. To my surprise, much the same. No-one's publicly got anything good to say about this.

    Seems our gov is so busy trying to suck up to his electorate that it's forgotten to check with them.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    The ACMD ...

    Was set up to advise the government on the medical, AND SOCIAL risks of drugs. It was incredibly frustrating that when Whacky Jaqui dismissed the ACMDs recommendation, she weaseled out of it by claiming they hadn't considered the "bigger picture".

    Thay had, you mad woman, it was their job. That's why it's not just scientists on the ACMD but social workers, probation oficers, and policemen. And they DID look at "the bigger picture".

    And they ALL recommended Cannabis stay class "C".

    And you STILL ignored them.

  65. Glyn 2
    Headmaster

    @Werner McGoole

    Not to mention, that you can ignore as much scientific evidence as you like with no problems, unless that is you've proclaimed how you're going to have evidence based policy.

    Regarding horse riding, Johnson (could there be a man more aptly named?) doesn't quite understand the concept of the metaphor then.

  66. Citizen Kaned
    FAIL

    and the paradox continues

    :: public thinks all drugs are bad (doesnt realise alcohol and nicotine are both harmful drugs) as thats what the gov tell them

    :: gov claim that public doesnt want all drugs (because its told public they are baaaad m'kay) and it doesnt want they as america will have a tantrum and pro alcohol & cigarettes companies threaten to withdraw support as people might just smoke pure weed rather than mix with marlboro

    :: goto 1

    and the cycle continues. simples

  67. mmiied
    Troll

    @ac

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

    posibley the second but the main reasion is that a lot of the climate-change-deniers as you call them on these threeds are actuley looking for acturey in the numbers used the the climate change debate and dislike it when the emotinal-blackmailers as I call them to skey numbers or silance the opersation

  68. Muscleguy Silver badge
    Boffin

    @Werner McGoole

    Well I'm a scientist too and I disagree with Alan Johnson and have emailed and told him so and why. The Misuse of Drugs Act mandates the advisory committee's existence. It has to be there and it has to be independent. There is some question as to the status of the act if the committee were to disband. The question is whether the committee is independent or not. Nutt should be free to tell us about the evidence, otherwise how pray tell are we the non experts to form an informed view?

    Under your little schema everyone remains ignorant and all decisions get made on the basis of ignorance and prejudice. I doubt that you think this would be a good thing. Have a think about it.

  69. Citizen Kaned
    Unhappy

    @ Advisers, not commanders

    i take it you dont drink then? i dont but i do like a smoke. so, since alcohol is doing FAR more damage to society shall we ban it? i advocate free choice btw so wouldnt dream of stopping you lot from drinking. we all need a way to relax.

    also - if you visit a mental health hospital you will see many young people with mental illnesses. are you that naive to think that all the people you saw were ex pot heads? i guess you asked them all. you also may be aware that young people can develop health issues of their own. how can you correlate the 2 so well?

  70. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Just unbelievable..

    Maybe I've been away too long from the UK or I have the sequence wrong.

    As far as I can tell, New Labour have followed their usual "this is what we decide, now get something to back it up" approach. No news there, after all, that generated a large deficit, no pension funds left to speak of and absolutely humongous profits for the consultancies who normally take the blame.

    In this case, the government's attempt to get scientists to back them backfired because they had already been told the direct opposite, and, unfortunately, the relevant scientist could not be quietly be convinced to conveniently commit "suicide" before too much brown stuff (no, the colour, not the person, interesting error) hit the rapidly spinning uneven distribution device.

    Not only had said scientist already hit the press proper, he also engaged his colleagues in this. Opting firmly for the Streisand effect, New Labour so decides to make the mouthy whitecoat an example by sacking him. Oops. Small error: these people still know what a spine looks like.

    Result: again, New Labour is engaging in a damage limitation exercise. The funny thing is that although that exercise has had plenty of practice it doesn't appear to improve matters much - the results still suck, resulting in the usual mixture of entertainment (the fools did it again) and irritation (this is where the tax money goes).

    Even the "Yes minister" authors wouldn't have dared to write a script like that..

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Classifications have nothing to do with how dangerous a drug is!

    I mean come on - It has already been proven that ecstasy is less harmful than Aspirin in numerous scientific studies, and LSD being even less so! But these are still Class A substances. Whilst Alcohol and Smoking continue to be unclassified and taxed.

    Classifications are clearly only based around how much fun a substance is - the more fun - the higher the classification.

    Sex will be classified soon - you'll see!

  72. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
    Joke

    e's are good, e's are good

    he's ebeneezer good .

    Can't believe I heard that on Radio 1 the other day - BAN RADIO 1 !!"!!1

    Fuckers.

    Johnson? From the way he was ranting on TV the other day I reckon he could do with a spliff and chill out a bit. Uptight twat that he is. You could use Johnson and Wacki for crossbow wire they're that uptight.

  73. TeeCee Gold badge
    Pint

    Oh, I dunno.

    I read the full version and he wanted booze classified above various drugs for nastiness.

    Now, if that were taken seriously I don't see it resulting in a liberalisation of drug legislation.........

    I for one am quite glad they decided to sack him rather than listen to him, regardless of their motivations, as I'm quite partial to my pint of medically intoxicating, addictive and incredibly dangerous liquid.

  74. RW
    FAIL

    Ah! NuLabour's inherent Bolshevism appears again

    NuLabour's actions remind me of nothing so much as Stalin and Lysenko, whereby a quack "scientist" was given the authority to gut the Russian scientific community of its genetics experts, setting back Russian expertise in biology and agriculture for decades.

    The details are different, of course, but the spirit of NuLabour in this situation is closely akin to Stallin's.

    What to watch for: NuLabour attempting to pack "independent scientific panels" with pet lapdogs guaranteed to toe the party line. A clever journalist might find some interesting material by investigating the academic and scientific credentials of any "scientist" henceforth appointed to an advisory board by NuLabour.

    Moral to the whole story? Never appoint real experts to supposed panels of "experts".

    Fail icon, but I really wish El Reg had the old Soviet Union flag as an icon.

  75. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    It already is.

    "Theft and murder have been with us since man existed - so decriminalise it."

    It _is decriminalised_ . Killing yourself isn't a crime, as far as I know.

    It's all about what you do _to yourself_, isn't it?

    No-one is forcing somebody else to smoke pot.

  76. Ashley Stevens

    Obviously not as smart as a climate scientist

    This so-called 'scientist' needs to take a lesson from the climate scientists and start saying what the government wants him to say! How can he possibly claim to be a proper government advisor when he sticks to irritating things like the facts. What an idiot! ;-)

    Seriously though, both Nutt and Johnson are in the wrong. Nutt shouldn't expect the government to make decisions based on evidence, but Johnson shouldn't sack Nutt for publishing correct evidence-based research.

  77. This post has been deleted by its author

  78. david 63

    The surprising thing is that...

    ...the Conservatives seem support the Government in the sacking. Either they have misjudged the mood or are sending out a warning to any experts that might criticise their judgement when they are in power.

    They left it up to the Lib Dems to criticise.

    Doesn't bode well for the future of evidence based policymaking.

    The wrong thing about this is the the Home Secretary has the power to sack the chairman of an independent advisory body. Even more scary that he has the choice of who to appoint. I can just see the interview:

    AJ: what colour is this (holds up piece of paper)

    Scientist: White, Home Secretary

    AJ: Wrong answer, try again

    Scientist: What colour would you like it to be, sir?

    AJ: Now we are getting somewhere, when can you start?

    You couldn't make it up - 'cept I just did...

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    you're not a bit

    floaty on your attitude to scientific advice - listen if relates to drugs, ignore if relates to global warming?

  80. Richard 102

    Nothing new, unfortunately

    The government has been doing this for years, in fact, since they became the primary source for research money. If the government wants research into X and results Y, it directs money that way. Simple.

  81. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Don't confuse us with facts

    Our hive mind is made up.

  82. Anonymous Coward
    Welcome

    Makes a change

    Normally the government makes full use of statistical analysis. Of course they are only the few chosen bits that are normally later shown to be out of context, but they suit the current brainwash policy of the day they are promoting.

    Let's face it, although I trust the conservatives about the same small amount, this has to be the most corrupt, totalitarian bunch of nutters ever to be seen in government. They worry me!

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    (title) y tea

    "No-one is forcing somebody else to smoke pot."

    erm... peer pressure at a vulnerable age?

    on a related note, given that our armed forces are currently occupying one of the worlds largest drug sources, why don't we go the EU route and guarantee minimum prices for the farmers?

    I.e offer to pay above local poppy rates for non poppy related crops. (lets face it, its not like the Afghanistan farmers will be getting full European market rates for the stuff.

    Admittedly the gummint would get priced out of that pretty quickly, but it would be a short term win, which would make setting up some sort of fair trade agreement more politically acceptable.

    Of course it would be expensive, but would it be more expensive than the current mess we are in?

    <tongue_in_cheek>sell the drugs to finance buying some helicopters perchance?</tongue_in_cheek>

  84. Graham Marsden
    FAIL

    The short version...

    Alan Johnson said: "You cannot have a chief adviser at the same time stepping into the public field."

    Professor Nutt responded: "What you cannot have is politicians stepping into the scientific arena - and that is exactly what they have done."

    ZING!

    If you have a group of advisors and then make policy whilst *ignoring* their advice, throwing your toys out of the pram and sacking them for speaking out about said policy is just petty and childish.

    Once upon a time this Government promised us "evidence based lawmaking"...

  85. shawnfromnh
    Flame

    Some things never change

    Just like Galileo these scientist face a bunch of close minded people that have already made up their mind. The more I see stuff like this involving democratic governments the more I think these governments are more like dictatorships or even communist governments where the government could care less what voters or science tells them and it's actually do like I say and don't question why since you are JUST a citizen. Everyone should support these scientists and vote out all politicians who insist on maintaining conformity no matter what. It's happening in the US now and hopefully soon it will spread overseas soon.

  86. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Big up

    Big up to the Nutt!

    (and those scientists who resigned in support of him).

  87. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad decision

    I think this tells the story and shows it for what it is.

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/science/2009/11/david-nutts-controversial-lecture-conformed-to-government-guidelines.html

  88. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Independent?

    What continues to strike me as odd about this case is how the government is able to sack the chair of an independent advisory panel. Shouldn't an independent panel have a membership that isn't determined by the government?

    So if sacking is possible, then surely the panel isn't independent?

  89. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @The surprising thing is that...

    of course the tories back the government, because they're fueled by the morons that believe the red tops too.

  90. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Wow! Daily Mail Comments!

    Have you seen the kinds of comments being posted and rated up on the Daily Mail website? The commenters seem overwhelmingly against Alan Johnson and the government on this.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1224574/Drugs-War-Johnson-goes-TV-defend-sacking.html

    So we've now got mainstream prohibitionists, anti-prohibitionists, and Daily Mail readers, all uniting against the government. Fantastic!

  91. Jean-Paul

    So glad this all came out

    I am so glad this all came out as I was getting more and more annoyed by the Goverment campaign against cannabis. You know the one where it WILL turn you into a psychotic lunatic. Heck in my younger days I did enjoy a nice bit of skunk or Moroccan black, but then again my sister used to run a coffee shop. My parents actually gave me my first joint as I would try it one day anyway. Just like they gave me my first glass of grape juice ;-)

    anyway the government is so out of order instilling unfounded fear in the public. A large percentage of the public has got underlying psychological problems which only require a trigger to come to the service. That doesn't make the trigger the cause! Then again in the case of people voting for john And Edward I am not so sure :-)

    very very silly situation, so what else does the government lie about?

  92. AshC

    What about some proper figures?

    One thing I've noticed from all the furore surrounding this matter is how little is given over to the levels of drug use in general. I took interest on hearing that the relative number of ecastasy deaths when compared to horse riding is around 1 - 30. Well for comparison, here are some slightly more useful figures from DrugScope:

    Drug-related deaths in England and Wales 2000 to 2004

    Cocaine 575

    Amphetamine 384

    Ecstasy 227

    Solvents 246[3]

    Opiates (heroin, morphine & methadone) 4,976

    Alcohol 25,000 - 200,000 approx.

    Tobacco half a million approx

    Number of deaths England and Wales in 2003 and 2004 (substance is mentioned on the death certificate)

    2003 2004

    Cocaine 113 147

    All Amphetamines 66 83

    Ecstasy 33 48

    Solvents 42 45

    Opiates 766 944

    Cannabis 11 16

    All deaths 2445 2598

    Source: http://www.drugscope.org.uk/resources/faqs/faqpages/how-many-people-die-from-drugs.htm

    So there you go, legal drugs have killed hundreds of thousands over the last term of government, the most common illegal drugs have killed around 6000. Oh and of course that's 'drug-related' deaths. As in it includes people who've been killed by someone under the influence of drugs and such. I'm not a scientist and it took one google search to glean these figures, so really, how hard can it be?

    Quite where riding horse fits into this I'm not sure, but I reckon it must leave Alan Johnson a bit long in the face.

  93. Arnie
    Megaphone

    Calling Dr Greenthumb

    "That's why I buy no weed from no one

    That's why they call me Dr. Greenthumb"

    Overgrow.gov.uk

  94. david 63

    re: Bad Decision

    Looks like grounds for going to the Emploment Tribunal. That would be a laugh...

  95. Tricky Dicky
    Big Brother

    Don't forget!

    1. Deaths from "legal" drugs don't count because they are legal.

    2. Deaths from horse riding don't count because only "toffs" ride horses

    Now go away and make your statistics fit with our NuLabour policies..

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