David Nutt and Unpopular Science

I’ve noted David Nutt’s unhappy relationship with the government that employed him before now – it was he who was told by erstwhile Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to apologise for having the temerity to point out that Ecstasy is probably safer than equestrianism; apparently facts play, and ought to play, no significant role in discussion of drug policy.

As has been all over the news for the last 24 hours, Nutt has been sacked asked to resign by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, again for pointing out that current drug policy isn’t all that well directed, since a disinterested appraisal of the facts would lead one to the conclusion that Ecstasy, cannabis and LSD are all less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco, the drugs of choice for (ahem) “nice” people.  (There’s a nice little piece in the Indy about this here.)

Meanwhile, Chris Huhne, Lib Dem shadow Home Secretary, has accused Johnson of caring little for independent advice, and that ministers

should save public money by sacking the entire group of experts and instead appointing a committee of tabloid editors.

And this might be amusing, were it not for the fact that it’s not so far away from reality: the Daily Fail is already calling Nutt a “serial offender”, and Amanda Platell, in her sorry excuse for a column in that sorry excuse for a newspaper, proclaims that

This week, Professor David Nutt, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, claimed Ecstasy and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol, and LSD is less harmful than cigarettes.

‘We have to accept young people like to experiment with drugs,’ he said.

No we don’t. What we have to do is reinforce the simple point that drugs ruin lives. No ifs, no buts.

So, let me get this straight: drugs are dangerous and remain so irrespective of any evidence about their danger, therefore we shouldn’t use evidence in formulating policy.  She reenforces her position with the obvious “Nutty Professor” gag – which is, distressingly, the most well-thought-out part of the entire screed.

Okaaaaaaaaay…  Is it wrong that I wonder what, precisely, Platell has been taking?

UPDATE: I feel I ought to share with you my friend Kate’s response to this whole farrago:

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.

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