David Nutt: why was he sacked?

Earlier today Home Secretary asked the Government’s chief drugs advisor, Professor David Nutt, to resign. The government line is that he was “asked” to resign but, outside the world of pedantic spin doctors who watch too much of The Thick of It, being “asked” to resign is the same as being sacked.

But what’s more concerning is the reason for him being removed. The Home Secretary has said the reason for sacking him  is that, “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy”.

But David Nutt isn’t being accused of getting evidence wrong (even though some of it gets into highly controversial areas) or of dressing up his own views as really being government policy. What the Home Secretary has objected is not the quality of advice he’s been getting, but rather that the advisor has then drawn conclusions from the advice that he doesn’t like and mentioned them in public.

In other words, advisors should either agree with the Home Secretary, not think about the implications of their evidence or just plain shut up. Are any of those three alternatives really preferable?

Good decision making doesn’t just require good evidence, it also requires sceptical opinions. A wise Cabinet minister should welcome a diversity of views – especially some that make them feel uncomfortable. The short term pleasure of being surrounded by people who only speak out to agree with you nearly always falls apart as decision making then deteriorates badly.

UPDATE: Good to see this quote from Chris Huhne:

“The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is simply not independent if its chair can be sacked for telling the Government what it does not want to hear.

“Ministers have constantly ignored the advice of experts when it comes to drug policies and pressed ahead with their own prejudices.

“If ministers care so little for independent scientific advice, they should save public money by sacking the entire group of experts and instead appoint a committee of tabloid editors.”

UPDATE 2: I guess today’s news means the answer to the question on Mark Reckons is “yes”, though perhaps not quite in the way intended when the question was posed…

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52 Comments

  • Hi Mark, you are bang on with this. I can’t believe the reason for his sacking. So David Nutts proffessional advice does not fit with Alan Johnsons or the governments policy. Lets ignore the science and the evidence and sack him. Disgusting, i hope your party and many MPs question him about this,

  • The fact that science holds itself to a higher standard of evidence than either the law or politics needs to be pointed out a lot more.

  • Richard Church 30th Oct '09 - 7:53pm

    So what is the difference between scientific advice and policy advice?

    ‘Cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol’ is not advice, it is a statement of fact based upon the evidence. The consequent advice is that is should be re-categorised. The government can accept or reject that advice as it sees fit, and in so doing it determines its policy.

    Will any scientist want to give any advice to this government again in case it conflicts with the government’s preferred policy? This is a dreadful day for anybody who wants to give objective and rational advice to this government.

  • This is why I voted for Chris Huhne.

  • LSD and marijuana are much less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. I hate how people are telling kids that if you take LSD or marijuana that you will suffer for all of eternity and be a failure for the rest of your life! Not that I’m advising anyone taking them, I’m simply just saying it is a known fact that alcohol and cigarettes are far more dangerous for your health.

  • When governments start sacrificing scientists for telling the truth you know we have entered the “End Game” of a political era. There is no way back from here for the Labour Party. From here on everything is based on faith alone…

  • ex-drinker=ex-offend 30th Oct '09 - 9:46pm

    this is why this country is in such a mess, people in the know tell this government what’s going wrong and why things are going wrong and their sacked!! I’d love to advise this government but fear I’d have my p45 within 24 hours. lets ask under the freedom of information act how many people/organizations have ever been prosecuted under section 141 of the licensing act. They think their saving the NHS millions by way of banning advertising on smoking, STOP smoking adds on telly, I’ve tried the patch but that wouldn’t stay alight!! Yet the promotion of alcohol has never been so great, what do the advertising standards authority think on supermarket adds on telly 7am 11am 2pm 5pm 7pm 9pm 7 days a week 2 cases for £16 or 2 bottles of spirits for £20 what’s the target audience 7-11am Saturday Sunday. I can remember the days when you went to a petrol station for petrol now days you can even pick up 10cans £6 off the forecourt is this why off licences are so few and far between? if they banned alcohol advertising they could save the NHS billions. But how many lords and other fat cats have their fingers in the drinks pot? then on the other hand could that be why section 141 is not enforced for the revenue it produces £80 on the stop fines drunk disorderly charges drunk incapable the list goes on. I think Prof David Nutt is on the money, a sad loss for all . I gave up the drink when wife fell pregnant no help from doctors or other parts of NHS just given the number for AA I didn’t feel I needed to be anonymous for becoming addicted to this most widely available and legal DRUG.

  • This saga bears all the hallmarks of an authoritarian regime. What can the public do to overthrow those responsible for prohibition? Who do you vote for? Will it take open rebellion?

    Look at what happened to the WHO report on cocaine of 1994, produced by eminent experts and then quashed by the US government (google for “WHO cocaine report”). Deja vu? The vile scum responsible for this mess have produced so much propaganda about drugs (skunk is soooo scary) that it makes a complete joke of the claim that they are making “efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs”. The message they give the public is that they are talking out of their collective arses. It makes a complete mockery of democracy. They have made criminals of millions of ordinary people – mostly their own citizens! They have spread misery around the world, created a multi billion dollar criminal industry and squandered 100s of billions of tax payers money to fight a ‘war on drugs’ (a fight against their own policies in effect).

    Politicians should accept that all human activity carries risk, leave it to experts to assess the risk, educate the public about those risks and leave it to them to make decisions about involvement with the activity. By all means protect the young and check things like driving under the influence (as we do in other cases). Prof. Nutt used horse riding as a (very good) example of risk evaluation, but whatever you do don’t look at figures for ‘legal’ drug consumption – that too would make a mockery of government policies – after all these are government controlled and sanctioned drugs – which kill 10s of thousands of people a year!

    Contempt is all this government (and the previous tory ones) deserve.

  • David Nutt on Radio 5 has said he would be happy to work with the LibDems as they have a grown-up attitrude to illegal drugs unlike the Tory & Labour parties.

    Sensible man. Recruit him now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '09 - 12:12pm

    It is silly to treat all drugs as if they are on one safe-dangerous spectrum. There are various things to consider such as short-term/long-term effects, probability of health damage, mental/physical effects, non-drug effects, existence of social culture etc.

    So, alcohol has no health effects if taken in small amounts, has a non-drug usage i.e. not everyone who drinks an alcoholic drink is doing it in order to get drunk, has a long history of social usage with culture and laws developed around it so that we have experience we can build on to handle it. These are things in its favour. It has short-term mental effects which some find pleasurable. We can be neutral on that, but now we can consider the negatives. The short-term mental effects can lead to short-term behaviour problems that hurt others. It has short-term physical effects which are damaging to others if the user does not take care. Heavy usage has certain long-term physical damage, and a high degree of dependency.

    Tobacco also has the history and cultural support. It doesn’t have the extensive non-drug usage of alcohol (though I suppose some use it for appearance rather than drug effect). The short-term mental effect is small and not damaging to others. It has a long-term health damage effect, but its most notorious health effect is a probabilitsic one rather than a certain one. It has a high degree of dependency.

    I suppose it could be said that cannabis use is so widespread it has a fair amount of cultural support, though as it is illegal not the legal framework for attempting to regulate safe usage that alcohol and tobacco have. It is taken mainly for its short-term mental effect (though I guess like tobacco there’s also an appearance issue). Its short-term mental effect can lead to behaviour that causes problems to others around. Its long-term physical effect does seem to be on the scale of tobacco. The long-term mental effect is the thing people argue about, it seems to be a probabilistic thing, and on the whole people find probability hard to handle.

    I am more concerned about cannabis than many because it seems to me to combine the long-term problems of tobacco with the short-term problems of alcohol and to have no justification in terms of a non drug usage. My own experience of the rise of illegal drug usage suggests there is something more harmful than tends to come out in the sort of report noted here. When one asks “what has gone wrong?” with once happy communities which now appear to be fairly horrible, the answer so often is “drugs”. Having myself lived next to neighbours, and experienced many others the same, where serious anti-social behaviour seemed to be linked to cannabis usage, I can’t so easly dismiss it as “harmless” in the way some can.

    I have a bias here in that I enjoy the taste of alcohol, but find no pleasure at all in its drug effects so struggle to understand why others do. So I just have to take it on trust that there’s some pleasure here which is more than just doing it because it’s what’s expected. For the same reason I’ve never seen why taking any other sort of mind-altering drug should be pleasurable. At best it seems to me the effect of most of them is to turn you into a moron and make you feel happy about being a moron. Though the different drugs tend to turn you into diferent sorts of moron. However, as a liberal I have to accept that just because I cannot see what people find pleasurable in something doesn’t mean I should be happy about banning it.

    The deeper issue here is the balance between politicians and experts. It’s seen too in a lot of discussion on education. Polticians can pick thing up which more narrowly focussed experts cannot, and have a duty to put it in a wider context. Polticians are generalists, that is why the final decision on a matter of what law should be should be down to them, at least when we can be sure they are generalists who are also properly representative. But a good politician is one who very much is aware of his or her limitations, and has sufficient feel for the scientific approach to know when to defer to the experts. If the science gives answers that don’t feel right, the answer is not to dimiss the conclusions without grounds, but to look at the questions asked to see if there were things that were missed.

    There are some cases where we need to be suspicious of experts because they have a vested interest in their conclusions. However, there’s no reason to suppose Professor Nutt gains any benefit from making the conclusions he made. The manner of his dismissal here really is indicative of so much that is wrong with New Labour.

  • Great blog from BMJ Blogs here http://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/2009/10/31/201/.

    It closes with a message for Mr Johnson which we may want to also send to him:
    I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to make decisions as Home Secretary. I would therefore ask you to step down from the Government with immediate effect.

  • Matthew Huntbach, you are wrong about equating the long-term dangers of marijuana & tobacco, you are simply expressing an opinion, not based on evidence, so you are guilty of the same failing as the Government & the Tories. Tsk!

    In fact, evidence from recent large-scale epidemiological studies comparing long-term marijuana-alone smokers:
    marijuana+tobacco smokers; tobacco-alone smokers and never smokers shows that marijuana has a protective anti-carcinogenic effect that is dose-related.

    Marijuana-alone smokers had a lower incidence of the 5 major respiratory tract cancers than never-smokers. Tobacco-only smokers showed the usual 20-fold increase, whilst tobacco smokers who also smoked marijuana had incidence levels just above the never-smokers group.

    An interesting point, the lead researcher on the study, Donald Tashkin, was the man whose research first showed high levels of carcinogens in marijuana smoke & led to endless Daily Mail stories about lung cancer & cannabis – indeed he is known as the DEA’s favourite scientist- so as he himself admits, the results of the epidemiological study surprised him, but being a proper scientist, he ACCEPTS THE EVIDENCE.

    In vitro studies are now confirming the potent anti-carcinogenic properties of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana against a range of tumour types.

    Marijuana-alone smokers also do not suffer the decrease in lung function shown by tobacco & tobacco+marijuana smokers.

    That is not to say that smoking marijuana is safe of course – there may be other long-term effects, but it is certainly much safer than smoking tobacco which will kill 50% of all long-term users.

    In fact the advice from Government to tobacco smokers should be to smoke lots of NHS weed too if they can’t beat their nicotine addiction.

  • Is it not possible to take a liberal/libertarian stance without having a starry-eyed view that they are nice & safe?

    I acknowledge the risks associated with drugs, but I think prohibition is an expensive waste of time that does more harm than good & doesn’t help addicts or society in general. So I support legalising most drugs. You can’t say “YES BUT LOOK AT THESE SMACKHEADS, LOOK HOW BAD DRUGS ARE, HOW CAN YOU BE SO CRUEL?” because overall prohibition worsens the lot of such people.

    I believe this is the stance of many senior civil servants & law enforcement officials who were tasked with enforcing the War On Drugs & once believed it, but realised it was a load of rubbish in due course. This is also why many on the right feel the same way.

    I do of course support Nutt. Has anyone been monitoring the issue in America? There are a few vaguely encouraging signs, but Obama isn’t yet taking a strong stand on the issue. I hope it will be due in his second term.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Nov '09 - 1:56am

    ColinW

    When you write of me


    you are wrong about equating the long-term dangers of marijuana & tobacco, you are simply expressing an opinion, not based on evidence, so you are guilty of the same failing as the Government & the Tories.

    you seem to be imagining I have an opinion on this. I wrote “it seems” because it is what I remember, and fall in line with my general understanding that the carcinogenic nature come from bunring vegetable material so it really doesn’t matter what sort of vegetable material it is. I don’t have any particular figures in front of me, so your accusation that I am acting like the government in seeing figures but rejecting them because I don’t like the conclusions is wrong. I would be happy to look at the epidemiological studies you quote, please feel free to post a reference, I think that would be most useful.

  • Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung and Upper
    Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: Results of a
    Population-Based Case-Control Study

    Mia Hashibe,1 Hal Morgenstern,2 Yan Cui,3 Donald P. Tashkin,4 Zuo-Feng Zhang,5
    Wendy Cozen,6 Thomas M. Mack,6 and Sander Greenland5,7

    Cancer
    Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15(10):1829–34

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 1st Nov '09 - 8:42am

    This fiasco with free speech being muted to Professor David Nutt a government unpaid misuse drugs advisor is typical of Labour`s policy to shoot this piano player who disagrees with their Kremlin.

    Many families have lost loved one due to all forms of drugs and one of the key points mentioned is that Government is required not to just to classify the most dangerous drugs in the right category but to question whether the potential drugs users and peddlars on the streets are changing their behaviour by dint of the Misuse of Drugs, law at all.

    In my view ,it is the community sentencing of drugs traders and paddlers that must be the target of tougher law enforcement ,just as the receipt of stolen goods attracts a higher sanction in law than theft.

  • ‘LSD and marijuana are much less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.’

    Perhaps people should remind David Nutt et al that since there are no controls whatsoever, over the manufacture,contents etc. of LSD,ecstasy,marijuana,skunk,heroine or what is purported to be these drugs by the dealers that sell them,then there is zero scientific fact to say that these drugs are more or less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

    Nutt ,in this case says it all,how on earth was this idiot appointed to this position in the first place.

  • Nutt shouldnt have gotten the job to begin with???

    even with the impurities of an unregulated production/ market the science shows that the health effects are far lesser than tobacco and alcohol. how would you even be able to say tobacco was clean or pure? i for one would rather buy something clean and pure and regulated with a specified dose.
    despite black market not having these things the results still speak for themselves.
    just like skunk weed was so high in thc they should expect it to wreck havoc. it didnt.
    nutt pointed this out. what many do not know is that even old school weed was sometimes more potent than skunk.
    its been that way for decades. these days the majority is stronger.

    if you read some of nutts work you would find that he is very knowledgable in these areas and the studies are very relevent. i doubt you have researched it at all.

    in a lot of cases the non purity has led to misleading findings which nutt has actually pointed out during his career.
    you presume a scientist of his calibre would not know such things that go into meaningful studies.
    some studies needed to be retracted. nutt identified these discrepencies.
    generally these were in line with the type of findings “they” wanted and resulted in poor policy. get your facts right before slamming the man.

    read his papers and listen to his interview on you tube.
    the cancer link for cannabis was assumed and linked due to the high level of tar in cannabis. however it is not just tar that leads to cancer and not many people sit down and smoke joints like ciggarettes. those that do still dont face the same risk as an occasional tobacco smoker.
    taskins study was the most comprehensive study to date looking into cancer and cannabis links and yet most people still think that pot will cause cancer. the governement did not publish it everywhere but the cancer risk was.

    its no wonder that people doubt the credibility of people like nutt because they have been spoon fed garbage for so long.. and not given evidence. educate yourself. this situation only reinforces that.

  • the story is in the detail.
    nutts paper mentions how near every ecstasy death is publicized. yet alchohol and tobacco are not to the same extent.

    if someone dies ( thousands) from cancer from smoking tobacco it hardly reaches the news unless they are famous.
    this leads to unbalanced public opinion into the harms of certain drugs.
    we accept that tobacco and alcohol kill yet we still somehow think that these others are worse because out of 26 deaths we see news stories and controversy on 25 of them. this is media affecting what the policy makers do with drug policy. the next week we see a drive for further penalty for ecstasy and we vote that way.
    it is because we have been desensitized to the harms of tobacco and alcohol and scared about these other drugs.
    even today i saw news clips to suggest that nutts claims where…..claims!

  • asqith (Post at 31st October 2009 at 9:04 pm)

    I already mentioned how the Americans deal with expert advice on drugs in my earlier post (Re: WHO cocaine report). If you need more evidence, check out what’s been going on in El Paso (http://stxc.blogspot.com/2009/01/silvestre-reyes-scuttles-sane-talk-on.html) The Americans are probably the biggest obstacle to a rational debate on drugs (may help to explain UK policy). Their favourite trick is to threaten to withdraw funds from any body that challenges the status quo. The UN is a common target for the US withholding funds.

    david – your comment about ecstasy deaths being reported disproportionately etc is part of a ‘drug demonisation’ strategy. The media are a big part of the problem. They are not impartial and they help to spread government anti-drug dogma. A typical BBC report will say “use of such and such a drug will PROBABLY lead to blah blah or COULD do this or MAY do that” ie it is riddled with weasel words which translated mean “noone knows but we imagine this scenario because we want to justify our actions and scare the poo out of you” it’s called spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). The latest wheeze is about how marijuana MAY CAUSE mental health problems. Little publicity is given to the notion that those who ALREADY have latent mental health problems should be warned against using marijuana. How many mainstream news items have you seen voicing doubt about drug prohibition? Whatever happened to independent media holding government to account and reporting a balanced view of the world?

  • the stronger the drug ,the less mass one would need to consume to feel the desired effect , so inturn if you have a week strain/solution ,you would need to consume more mass to equal the same amount of active drug to gain the desired effect along with whatever filler / poison the controller / dealer decides to mix with it,
    , the addiction problem with cannabis starts when tobacco is thrown into the mix , a legal drug ,

    the law is set on policy and the policy for that law should be set on fact, just as what works best for fact based law , a fair balance , rule one in the good politicians hand book , that’s how the machine works , until the balance is right ,there will be a break in positive culture and incorrect / corrupt education will always be there doing the damage , we also need to take control away from the black market so cannabis consumers are not exposed to the dealers harder drugs , it seems that regulation is the safest way to reduce the harm with the help of the consumers history and acquired knowledge of safe practice……

  • Priceless irony – just watched on TV the film ‘The day after tomorrow’. In the film the government guy says something like “You scientists stick to giving us scientific advice and we’ll deal with policy” the scientist guy says something like “but you’ve ignored our advice up to now and that’s what got us into this mess”.

  • jw – “addiction problem with cannabis”? Cannabis is NOT addictive (by the definition of addiction)

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Nov '09 - 3:33pm

    ColinW


    Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung and Upper
    Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: Results of a
    Population-Based Case-Control Study

    Mia Hashibe,1 Hal Morgenstern,2 Yan Cui,3 Donald P. Tashkin,4 Zuo-Feng Zhang,5
    Wendy Cozen,6 Thomas M. Mack,6 and Sander Greenland5,7

    Cancer
    Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006;15(10):1829–34

    Thanks. I have checked this on Google scholar, the link is:

    http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/15/10/1829.full

    from this one may look at papers which reference it, and papers it references.

    It is clear from this that there is much research to be done to reach conclusive answers, so you were perhaps a little misleading in picking out one study which most supports what one point of view.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 2nd Nov '09 - 5:28pm

    This whole episode on the sacking of Prof. David Nutt as the Chief Drugs Advisor should begin a review on the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as an appropriate legal determinant, to stop the eclipsing over law, of the proliferation of the supply of drugs and harm to so many vulnerable young people on the streets.

    I cite the following concerns:

    1.The Prison Trust has stated its alarm as a result of their trenchant research into the problem of the continual smuggling of drugs into HM Prisons and 70% new arrivals at prisons are found to be contaminated with an illegal drug.

    2.The human link with drug addiction and dependency is closely associated with prostitution and the ability of international sex trafficking that has only been targeted on the margins by police `stings’ like Operations like Pentameter and Sapphire.

    3.The Prison Trust has drawn attention in their important research, to the drugs harm to a disproportionately high number of those sentenced 90,000 now in prisons, making the requirement for a better and improvement framework for drugs rehab. long overdue and life threatening for those `addicts’.

    4.Alcohol and tobacco are socially legal drugs are on the increase and causing grave problems besides the classes ABC drugs : but is it not time to hold a national enquiry into how to introduce more effective controls on the availability of drugs that clearly has risen over the last decade of this Government?

    It is one matter to have a debate about the role and appropriate use of the expertise of the national drugs czar adviser but quite another to understand the real issue to develop better and more coherent laws and their social enforcement to stop innocent teenagers being predatory fodder, to the ruthless drugs suppliers.

    I support Chrish Huhne`s assessment that the Government are looking for `Yes Men’ as their advisers.

    It is patently clear that the Prof. David Nutt and colleagues should be free to speak out on their opinions on all areas of drugs abuse and make proposals on how to enforce controls as part of their remit.

    I believe that the Prof. Nutt is honourable and is only concerned with offering the best advice in how this Government should have done much better on drugs control measures, especially to prevent access of nefarious drugs suppliers and traffickers to young persons.

  • Matthew I cite that particular study:

    1. because it’s the only large-scale epidemiological study to date in which the marijuana-alone smokers subgroup is large enough to be statistically meaningful.
    2. because Donald Tashkin, being a real scientist, accepts the evidence, despite having first demonstrated the presence of carcinogens in marijuana smoke & hypothesised (reasonably) that smoking marijuana is likely to cause cancers.

    So despite having a personal investment in the ‘marijuana could cause cancer’ hypothesis, he has now changed his model, based on the evidence.

  • Hang on a minute Patrick, just where are these trafficked prostitutes ?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails

    Yet another police/tabloids/stupid politicians made up nonsense to justify the war on drugs, which you seem to have swallowed uncritically.

    Have a look at the discussion here:

    http://www.badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=12619

  • greg robertson 2nd Nov '09 - 6:17pm

    as for someone who has never voted in 14 years, i just hope the lib dems here make drug policy, especialy cannabis decriminalization a top priority if they are involved in power sharing with the establishment parties. myself and thousands others enjoy and require the benefits of cannabis ( home grown ). with a common sense approach to personal use i see this as a huge vote winner, science has shown the dangers and benefits and this must be reflected by our governments. also if people could freely grow there own (1-4 plants) without prosecution then people would not have to buy hashish/ street weed ( quality and health lottery ) which in this country can be highly contaminated ( soapbar / sprayed grit weed ) they also have to smoke hashish mixed with tobacco. people can grow strains to there liking and effect from the very weak to the very strong without mixing it with tobacco ( personal choice ), reducing nicotiene addiction as well as not dabbling in the black market and risking there health at the same time.

  • Patrick Smith (Posted 2nd November 2009 at 5:28 pm) – Your post is 99% garbage in the context of this discussion. This has little to do with “making proposals on how to enforce controls” or “offering the best advice in how this Government should have done much better on drugs control measures”. The stuff about “the prison trust”, “prostitution” and “young people/teenagers/young persons” is a completely irrelevant smoke screen. I suggest your post is politically motivated and designed to promote government policy.

    The one-liner about Chris Huhne is the only bit of relevance.

  • Good to read that from Chris Huhne.

    But as he writes that “Ministers have constantly ignored the advice of experts… and pressed ahead with their own prejudices”, it would be worth checking that against his own record. Not on drugs, or prisons, about which he is generally sound, but on other policy issues that should also be informed by scientific advice.

    Let’s take an environmental issue, for comparison – his previous portfolio.

    Chris Huhne signed EDM 95 on whaling, calling on the Government to maintain the moratorium on commericial whaling and to undermine international legal prodecures by packing the International Whaling Commission with representatives from landlocked states to vote against Japan and Iceland.

    Did Mr. Huhne and 28 other Lib Dem MPs base that on scientific advice?

    No: The Whaling Commission’s own scientists have been demonstrating for years that Minke whales are abundant in the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean, and that many depleted stocks of other whale species are recovering at encouraging rates. Which is to say at the very least that the resource basis for commericial whaling is broader than to support present exploitation.

    But the political body, which makes the decisions, still refuses to set a catch level at anything other than zero.

    It’s not the studies of scientists, but popular sentimental ideas about the charismatic mega-fauna of the ocean, that sets policy, and that sets Mr. Huhne’s agenda on this environmental issue.

    I rather think that a lot of the people who are up in arms against the Government for not taking scientific advice in this case haven’t thought through which of their sacred cows might be slaughtered if the scientists had their way all the time. If scientists were in charge, then more delicious whales would be harpooned and eaten.

    How many people condemning the Home Secretary on this board today would be clucking like outraged biddies at what science had wrought on the great mammals of the sea?

  • Francis – you’re right that there are a lot of difficult decisions for politicians to make and that on some issues personal opinion is difficult to resist. The problems at issue here are on the one hand politicians telling outright lies to justify their decisions (Gordon Browns reference to skunk being lethal) and on the other, people charged with providing expert advice to the government should not be muzzled when that advice is not what the government wants to hear. In this case a scientist would normally say a lie is a lie and she will also spot a huge divergence between government fantasy and reality and then point it out. As in the story “The Emperors new clothes”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Nov '09 - 12:00pm

    ColinW

    With reference to the study, yes, it’s interesting. I can’t claim any great awareness of the literature on this issue, but it wasn’t hard to work from this lead to find enough material to get a feel for it in a few minutes. I would expect a Home Secretary, whose job it is to do this, to be much better informed than I am after looking at these things in my coffee break, and to have a reasonable enough understanding of the scientific technique to make whatever comment he has on that basis.

    As I said, a politician has to be more of a generalist, and to look at these things in a wider context. A scientist will narrow down on a specific question and try to cut out all context to answer just that question, that’s the scientific technique. So if there’s a narrow question on the health effects of cannabis, that’s the question answered, and to sack the fellow because that’s what he did is really stupid.

    As I have also said, however, in the wider context to say cannabis should be treated just like tobacco because it is “less dangerous” is to miss the context. If tobacco were newly introduced today, we would not legalise it, we have it because it has been legal and in widespread use and has a commercial industry supported by it. So just because another drug causes less deaths per user does not necessarily mean it should be treated in terms of legality as tobacco is. Tobacco, so far as I know, does not cause short-term mental and physical behaviour effects which may endanger those in the vicinity of its users. So the one-dimensional way of viewing drugs purely in terms of long-term harm to their users is not the only issue to be considered here, though it seems to be the one Nutt’s report was based on.

    Whether deaths of illegal drug users are caused by impurities due to the way the drug is supplied rather than the drug itself is something a scientific study should control for. If the question is asked “is this drug safe?”, the scientific approach is just to do what can be done to take away the possibility that deaths are not caused by the drug itself. If the question is asked “are the deaths attributed to this drug due to impurities which come about because there isn’t the quality control framework there would be in a legal product”, then that’s a different question. A scientist should not be criticised for not answering a question that wasn’t asked, although a good scientist working in an area where there is a social context should be aware enough to raise those questions when answering the one which was asked.

    A politician who is a generalist and has his or her feet on the ground may well be the one raising questions. In my case, from my own casework when I was a councillor, I do raise the question why is it that so often one has to deal with people who are causing a nuisance to others in the neighbourhood, those people are heavy users of cannabis. I can quite happily accept that there may well be plenty of quite trouble-free people who are heavy cannabis users, and I am not saying where there is the cause and effect. I just note it as an observation. If there are some who can handle it, some who can’t – fine, the same applies to alcohol. If the trouble-making is due entirely to the illegal nature of supply, fine too. If no statistically significant link can be found, fine too again, there are plenty of reasons why a false correlation may be observed. But I’d like these questions answered in a scientific way, and Alan Johnson’s behaviour shows just how not to do it.

  • So Matthew from your post you think it’s OK to face 5 years in prison for simple posession of a Class B drug? Or 14 years for growing a few cannabis plants, because that seems to be the case you make. You do not seem to appreciate that the ACMD also has police officers, criminologists & representatives of drug treatment bodies in its membership of 31, as well as scientists who are experts in their respective fields. So when you say:

    “So the one-dimensional way of viewing drugs purely in terms of long-term harm to their users is not the only issue to be considered here, though it seems to be the one Nutt’s report was based on.”

    And as for this:

    “Tobacco, so far as I know, does not cause short-term mental and physical behaviour effects which may endanger those in the vicinity of its users”

    Laughable. You clearly have as little understanding of the effects of cannabis & ecstasy as Johnson, Brown or any of the other kneejerk drug warriors.

    Please enlighten me as to how using cannabis or ecstasy ‘endangers those in the vicinity of its users’

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '09 - 10:41pm


    So Matthew from your post you think it’s OK to face 5 years in prison for simple posession of a Class B drug?

    Where in anything I wrote did I suggest any particular level of punishment? You appear to be supposing that simply because I do not say “cannabis is fine amd wiondeerful, let;s have it in sale in Tesco’s” means I must be saying it should have the level of illeaglity and punishment as it does now.

    I am very tired of arguing with stupid binary people like yourself who are too thick to see that just because you don’t hold exactly to their point of view you must hold to the complete opposite. I have just slugged it out with some stupid illiberal so-called “libertarians” who are so stuck up themselves they think anyone who doesn’t agree with them isn’t even human. I can’t be bothered to go it out again with someone else who is clearly too pompous and stuck up to be worth trying to discuss things in a rational way with.

    But just to answer your last point, I mean such things as impaired motor skills, which may affect ability to drive safely. If what I read in the Wiki article on these things http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_cannabis is completely wrong, well, go and change the Wiki article and say it’s all wong – cannabis has no short-term effects on mental or physical judgements. That would be more productive than insulting me.

  • Some of the statements here are so stupid as to be moronic. The implication that scientists are in some way not able to see beyond their speciality and politicians are somehow wise sages that are able to see the big picture (that is beyond the ability of mere mortals) is absolute and complete poo. I can’t believe that people think that way. I challenge you to look at the background of random MPs and tell me what you think makes these people better able to decide how to run a country than any other (decently educated) person.

    The POLITICAL one-dimensional way of viewing drugs prevents ANY serious studies or research being undertaken on any illegal drug. Studies that have been undertaken are suppressed if they don’t produce results that support the political position on drugs as this whole sorry saga vividly demonstrates. In effect, nearly all studies are suppressed, funding withdrawn etc

    “people who are causing a nuisance to others in the neighbourhood, those people are heavy users of cannabis” DOES NOT MEAN that “heavy users of cannabis are those people who are causing a nuisance to others in the neighbourhood”. The statement merely says that people who cause a nuisance happen to consume cannabis. It’s meaningless. They probably consume potatoes too. But the statement plants the implication in the mind of the public. It’s disinformation. FUD.

    Johnson stood up and said that Nutt was sacked because he challenged government policy. SO WHAT? What is this government policy stuff that is sacrosanct? Why can’t it be challenged. This is supposed to be a democracy. I can’t ever remember anyone from the government ever debating government policy on drugs. This is a behind closed doors thing. So the government position comes down to this “Drug policy is as it is, it’s not up for debate. Accept it and shut up. We refuse to even justify our position on any basis (scientific or otherwise)”. I’m afraid that’s NOT ACCEPTABLE. I for one DEMAND a debate on drugs legislation. I DEMAND a justification of government drugs policy and above all I DEMAND change! There is too much at stake. Millions of peoples lives are being ruined by these policies. As I said in my first post . What can the public do to overthrow those responsible for prohibition? Who do you vote for? 40 years of these policies have achieved NOTHING except to criminalise millions of innocent people. At a HUGE cost. Those who are making vast profits from the illegal drugs industry are managing to prevent change – they learnt probably the lessons from alcohol prohibition – it’s a shame politicians didn’t. Or maybe many of these people are one and the same.

    To highlight how politicians fail to apply rational method when they “investigate” an issue, especially drugs, has anyone noticed what the home affairs select committee is up to? In the words of the chairman of this committee “As part of our investigation into the cocaine trade we want to explore the human cost of drug taking, particularly on users and their families.”. To which end they invited the father of Amy Winehouse “to share with us research for a documentary on the damaging effects of drug abuse”. The session opened with the chairman asking about Amy’s cocaine addiction – her father then had to point out that her problem was heroine not cocaine. Great – MPs investigating cocaine talking to someone about heroine addiction! Says it all. Of course the government is actually positioning itself to reinforce it’s own policy on cocaine. Seems to me something like investigating the automobile trade by exploring the ‘human cost’ of motoring (accidents). My point is that here we have a group of politicians (unqualified laymen), pretending to investigate something that they have fixed views on. I wonder if THEY have read the WHO report on cocaine of 1994? (which says “Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use” and “That occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems … a minority of people start using cocaine or related products, use casually for a short or long period, and suffer little or no negative consequences, even after years of use”). And of course they’ll be taking statements from some of those millions of UK citizens who have used cocaine and have had no problems with it whatsoever.

    Many politicians are moving beyond contempt. Until they start behaving responsibly (honourable members they call themselves), they will NEVER gain public trust or respect.

  • As I thought initially Matthew, you are just a drug warrior, like Johnson, Brown, Cameron & Grayling.

    Too bad I’m just “too thick” to understand that you know so much more than I do. I’m just a biochemical toxicologist but hey, you looked something up on Wikipedia, so just like Alan Johnson you know best.

  • Matthew – apologies for any offence you may take but many of those trying to promote rational government policies towards activities such as recreational drug use have also been through the ‘you don’t agree with me so you must be wrong’ scenario hundreds if not thousands of times.

    You didn’t answer the question “how using cannabis or ecstasy ‘endangers those in the vicinity of its users’”. You originally said “Tobacco, so far as I know, does not cause short-term mental and physical behaviour effects which may endanger those in the vicinity of its users.” but now claim “I mean SUCH THINGS as impaired motor skills, which may affect ability to drive safely”. That is a world of difference. In this example, you’re talking about driving (also SUCH THINGS is a weasel word/phrase). The drug has nothing to do with “danger to those in the vicinity of it’s users”, it’s the users ability to drive in different circumstances, which can vary from the under influence of drugs (legal and illegal) to hormones (time of month or PMT) to mood (say bereavement) to stress (too much on your mind) to lack of sleep to distraction (mobile phone or changing the CD) etc

    I shouldn’t need to point this out. That’s where impatience creeps in and offence is taken.

  • It’s no good – I have to rise to the bait.

    Matthew, your comment “Tobacco, so far as I know, does not cause short-term mental and physical behaviour effects which may endanger those in the vicinity of its users.” in the context of driving. As a tobacco smoker of 30 years I am well qualified to point out a few problems with that statement:
    – smoking can cause a “rush” which momentarily degrades concentration
    – smoking can cause a feeling of giddiness/nausea especially when ill or at higher altitude
    – fiddling with (looking for) cigarettes/lighter causes loss of attention
    – dropping a lighted cigarette is particularly distracting especially into your lap or wearing shorts
    – ditto with dropping hot cigarette ash
    – the worst possible problem is when a cigarette sticks to your lip, your fingers slide down the cigarette plucking out the red hot tip which burns your fingers and then you in reflex drop the disintegrating embers into your lap (every smoker squirms when thinking of this one – it’s a bit like zipping your whatsit into your flies for a bloke – excruciatingly painful).

    All of these things have happened to me while driving.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Nov '09 - 9:06pm

    Bob — thanks for that graphic reminder of why I really must stay stopped…

  • Im sorry Matthew, but while you try to be reasonable, your overall ignorance, and basic lack of experience just shines on through.

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  • By The LDV Friday Five (ish): 6/11/09 on Fri 6th November 2009 at 6:57 pm.

    […] David Nutt: why was he sacked? (49) by Mark Pack 2. Introducing the all-new LibDems.org.uk website (37) by David Loxton 3. […]

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