Monday, 2 November 2009

Phew, What a Nutter!

Professor Nutt's sensible and measured description of the harm that various recreational drugs do has caused an entirely predictable storm of indignation from the knee-jerk prohibitionists. This is just as last time he questioned Government policy. Except for one crucial factor. The press is starting to see through the prohibitionists' case, based as it is on willful prejudice and habit and is broadly supportive of the sacked scientist. Obviously there is no sense from the ususal suspects, but Just as the Tabloids were still (and still are) puff bashing long after homosexuality was made legal, they will lag society and the law on this issue too. Now that even the Daily Mail carries an article supporting Professor Nutt, it is clear which way the wind is blowing.

Drug policy is my political weathervane. Anyone who cannot see the logic of freedom on this issue where the limits of state power over the individual are so starkly demonstrated, is an idiot who shouldn't be listened to on anything else.

The scientists who advise the Government, not just on this issue, but on others too are considering their positions, and a raft of resignations may yet follow, as professor Nutt was not criticising Government policy but setting out the Harm done by various drugs. Legal drugs were included, to put the harm in perspective. This is something the British people can see, and the press coverage is backing him up. Guido's post is worth reading in full:

The sacked Professor David Nutt has turned the tables on Alan Johnson. Johnson keeps repeating angrily that the professor should stay out of politics, the professor is squarely saying that politicians should stay out of the science.
Professor Nutt opposed the re-up-grading of Cannabis to class B, and opposed the 'clarification' of the law which saw Magic mushrooms in their fresh state classified as class A, as neither move reflected the harm to individuals and society from their use, and brought the law into disrepute. I would like to see the Conservatives make some party political capital out of this, but I suspect they're still afraid of the Daily Mail tendency, even though most of the public (though not, crucially, the majority of Conservative voters) are in favour of some relaxation of the law. Chris Dillow sums it up beautifully:
It seems that when public opinion is wrong - for example on immigration - politicians pander to it, but when it is right they ignore it. The function of representatives in representative democracy, it seems, is take all the idiocies of public opinion, and when these are insufficient, to then add some of their own.


Nigel Sedgwick said...

In Jackart's link to The Times Online, there is a letter from Lord Young of Graffham. He writes: Sir, Margaret Thatcher said “Advisers advise and Ministers decide” and having been both I fully agree. An adviser owes his minister his honest opinion, which might or might not be taken, for the minister will have other considerations to take into account. If the advice is ignored, and the adviser feels strongly enough, then resign and speak out. Until then you owe your minister your loyalty and your silence.

This makes, I think, a very good point. However, I have some challenges to it, because things are not what they were when Lord Young was a minister.

Firstly, the New Labour government of Blair and Brown has repeatedly wheeled out scientific advisors to support the government line, also calling on them to make public statements themselves on government policy. This has certainly changed the relationship between scientific advisors and the government, and perhaps damaged that relationship (though see below). The government cannot have it both ways: either these advisors give confidential advice to ministers, who then take total responsibility for decisions and take total responsibility for publicising and justifying them, or advisors are free to speak their opinions in public.

Secondly, the New Labour government of Blair and Brown has repeatedly abused scientific evidence, misrepresenting what it means and distorting the proper presentation of statistical analysis. It has also represented as scientific evidence, that which has between zero and inadequate scientific backing. We have even gone to war on such a basis. And it is worth remembering the horribly shabby treatment dished out to Dr David Kelly, by government and Parliament, when he took action in objection to the abuse of the evidence he had provided as a government scientist.

Thirdly, we now have both a freedom of information act and the Internet. Surely with both of these, all evidence on which government acts (excluding some parts of that concerning national security) should be in the public domain. That should include the advice given on recreational drugs. Again, the government has clearly exaggerated some of the dangers, in direct conflict with the expert scientific advice they have been given - a continuation of my second point. And with the Internet, the ability of government to control the release of information is between limited and non-existent. Their continuation to try to control it, as shown by the case of recreational drugs and irrespective of the opinion of Professor Nutt and the committee he used to chair, shows that the whole edifice of current government PR management has crumbling foundations - and that the Executive, Parliament and the Civil Service have just not understood this.

Best regards

Pat said...

If the government felt that they didn't need advice on drugs policy, why did they channel public money to pay pay for something which they didn't need? I don't suppose Prof. Nutt's salary contributed much to the national debt- but if this has been repeated in other instance it does represent a considerable waste of public funds.
If the fear of public disapproval rather than disagreement with his report motivated their rejection of Prof. Nutt's advice, then surely the sane thing to do would be to put a stop to the pro-prohibition propoganda with which we have been deluged for forty years. Even if they lack the courage to sell a new policy they could then wait to see how public opinion shifted on it's own- they could even claim the need to cut the deficit as an excuse.
Mind I don't recall them being so shy about, say signing us up to Lisbon, or abolishing the death penalty.

m.a. said...

The legalization of drugs will go the way of health insurance and education. It will be bureaucratized to death.

But I suppose I never have to worry about that one. Non-prescription narcotics will never be legal in the US.

Puritans rule.

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