Saturday, October 31, 2009

UK government sacks drugs advisor

A few minutes after writing the post below which mentions the UK's Professor David Nutt, I learned that the government had sacked him as head of their scientific advisory panel on drugs.

They could not rebut his findings that some illicit drugs are less harmful than the legal ones, so they simply removed him, acting more like the Stasi or the Gestapo than representatives in a mature democracy.

The move, which followed calls in the shockjock press for the sacking, shows that only 'yesmen' can safely offer advice to the government. Inevitably such advice will often be flawed and decisions based on it will be bad for the country. This is one of the intrinsic weaknesses of totalitarian states and a key reason they fail.

Truth is toxic to ideologues, it seems, and this corruption of democracy will cause far more harm than any drug -- as one Guardian columnist writes.

The news is truly saddening, the action disgusting and its perpetrators guilty of a gross abuse of power.

"Professor Nutt clashed with Jacqui Smith when she was home secretary after he compared the 100 deaths a year from horseriding with the 30 deaths a year linked to ecstasy," reports The Guardian.

That journal also roasted the current home secretary in an editorial, quoting Professor Nutt:

"Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth," he argued. "Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively."

Go figure. Shooting the messenger does not change the truth.

PS (2 Nov): Two of Professor Nutt’s colleagues have reportedly resigned from the Advisory Panel in protest at the sacking, and more may leave. One of them is Dr Les King, a respected chemist and former head of the Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Forensic Science Service, who said: "Academics, medics and others are going to ask themselves if they want to serve on these agencies without payment, on their own time and expense, when the advice that they produce is routinely ignored."

The Independent lays out the small political storm triggered by the sacking.

Even Auntie ABC is on this one, reporting that the Scientists "have joined the criticism of a government accused of ignoring sound science in favour of tabloid driven myth."

Warning: The same danger is present in NSW, with a politically desperate government inclined to opportunism and appointing 'yesmen', while columnist Miranda Devine has called for the sacking of Dr Alex Wodak who campaigns for rational drug policy here.

PS (5 November): The Guardian has weighed in, roasting hypocritical politicians in an editorial:
Half the government, as well as the Conservative leader and three US presidents in a row, have used drugs in their own youth, and yet punitive laws continue to threaten others who do the same with prison...

The politicians from the main parties are thus united in continuing to talk rot. It is hardly surprising that the experts feel a need to make themselves heard – and do so in rather blunt terms.
Notably none of the usual prohibitionists nor the UK government have challenged the advisory panel's evidence and conclusions. The only remaining opposition comes from people with closed minds who deny fact in order to continue an unwinnable war. By Arthur Miller's definition these people are not even idealogues because that would require the 'principled denial of fact'. But hypocrites are not principled, so what does that make them?

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