In Praise of David Nutt

If you’ll excuse the bad pun, Alan Johnson has made a complete hash of his handling of the sacking of Professor David Nutt.

No, that’s unfair – the government has collectively made a complete hash of things. Johnson is just the poor sap who’s having to field a problem created by his predecesor, Jacqui Smith, whose poisonous legacy almost makes one wish for the return of the Safety Elephant.

Well, not almost, not by a long chalk, but you get the general idea. The longer New labour have been in power the more apparent it is that the Home Office has been secretly taken over by David Icke’s Lizard Overlords, who’ve been systematically replacing the Labour politicians assigned to the department with a bunch of specially grown mouth-breathing pod people.

You might guess by now that I’m not happy. Actually, fucking incandescent is closer to the truth.

Professor Nutt wasn’t just doing his job to the best of his abilities, he was doing the job that parliament, in the guise of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, had specifically asked him to do – put the country’s drug misuse policies on a sound and consistent scientific footing:

48. A more scientifically based scale of harm than the current system would undoubtedly be a valuable tool to inform policy making and education. (Paragraph 104)

49. It is vital that the Government’s approach to drugs education is evidence based. A more scientifically based scale of harm would have greater credibility than the current system where the placing of drugs in particular categories is ultimately a political decision. (Paragraph 105)

And lo it came to pass that Alan Johnson proved the Science and Technology Committee’s point in spades.

Johnson’s excuse for sacking Nutt, once you cut past all the self-serving bullshit, amounts to the assertion that Nutt has taken sides in the wider debate on drugs policy and, therefore, comprised his own impartiality together with that of the committee – all of which demonstrates yet again that far too few politicians actually understand science and the scientific method.

Science is many things but its neither democratic nor impartial.

Scientists should certainly view the evidence impartially before drawing conclusions from it, but once a conclusion is drawn, and its felt that this conclusion is strongly, if not overwhelmingly, supported by the evidence then impartiality goes straight out the window.

What is there to impartial about when the evidence directs you to a particular conclusion?

– Nothing.

Newton didn’t equivocate over the laws of motion and gravity, not that Sir Isaac was ever one for equivocating over anything.

Einstein didn’t dissemble in presenting his Special and General Theories of Relatively – he even made a mistake by incorporating a cosmological constant in the belief that universe was static, and freely admitted his error on being proved wrong by Edwin Hubble.

Darwin spent twenty years marshalling the evidence that supported his theory of evolution by natural selection but when he was finally propelled into publishing his ideas by Alfred Wallace he held back very little. Only on the subject of the descent of of our own species, Homo Sapiens, did he not make his thoughts explicit in the ‘Origin of Species’, knowing full well the negative reaction those ideas would provoke, but even then he did enough – no one who read his book the, or since, could be in any doubt at all what his theory meant for the origins of man.

Professor David Nutt is a scientist, an altogether more honourable profession than that of politician or government advisor and he is to be commended for standing by his principles and following the evidence, as any good scientist should.

He deserved better than the shameful treatment meted out him last week by a government that believes, wrongly, that the front page of the Daily Mail constitutes evidence.

  • What’s most telling about Johnson’s attitude is this statement in the Commons –

    “His role was to advise rather than criticise government policy on drugs”

    If you advise someone to do something, and they ignore you, what else can you do but criticize that decision? The ACMD’s advice was an implicit criticism of the government, Nutt merely made it explicit in his lecture, which in a democratic society, is exactly what he should have done.

  • scienceofsuppliance

    British Crime Survey states 3,764,000 drug takers in UK a year. About 1564 drug deaths per year. Around 1 in 2400 chance of death.

    9000 British Troops in Afghanistan. 87 deaths so far this year. Around 1 in 100 chance of death.

    Labour policy on Afghanistan is therefore more lethal than drugs. Ban Labour.

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  • Paul

    What struck me was that Johnson allegedly claimed that Prof Nutt’s dismissal was ‘a precautionary measure?’

    A precaution against what?

    The risk that the general public has access to truthful information?

    The risk that accurate scientific evidence might conflict with the government’s own arbitrary missive?