October 31st 2009:
The UK's former
chief drugs adviser has accused Gordon Brown of reclassifying cannabis
for political reasons.
Prof David Nutt also predicted there would be further resignations
the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after he was made to quit
as its head.
It is important
to understand what is going on here. The scientist's objection hinges
on the principle that the classification system, a purely science-based
table of the relative dangers of different drugs, should not under any
circumstances be 'tweaked' to 'send a message' for political reasons.
However, the reason Professor Nutt has been sacked is not for his
holding of this position, but for many other things he has said in
public in order to discredit the political stance of the government and
the Prime Minister on the whole question of drugs.
In an effort to prove his contention that politics as a whole should be
guided rigidly by scientific advice (a dangerous idea when scientists
disagree amongst themselves on so many things), Profesor Nutt has gone
so far as saying that alcoholic drings and horse-riding are more
dangerous than cannabis or ecstasy. This brings into doubt Professor
Nutt's status as a scientist. If everyone who either drinks or rides
were to replace their horse-riding and non-abusive drinking with
smoking cannabis, the results would not be safer or healthier. The
reverse would be the case for many individuals and for society as a
It is, we can all agree, confusing for scientists to have their work
and classification tables re-published by politicians for political
purposes without an explanation that they, the scientists in question,
understand. However, political science is a reality they also have to
live with and political decisions, just like military decisions, may
often have to be taken in the light of events that have not yet
permeated the time-line that offers itself for full scientific
analysis. Politicians, like soldiers, sometimes have to use any weapon
that comes to hand. Many a head has been broken with the butt of a
jammed rifle, a misuse that the manufacturer would deplore.
There is a further complication: the classification table itself was
commissioned for the purpose of deciding the penalties to imposed on
the use of and trade in dangerous drugs. This automatically extends its
reach beyond the realms of academe and chemistry to the effective
danger of a drug to a given society.
The 'political reasons', a phrase that the sacked advisor uses with a
tone of contempt, will always override scientific opinions. That is
what politics is about. We are not dealing with a nation of rational,
well informed educated people but a preponderance of the brain-damaged
I do not use the phrase brain-damaged as an insult. The brains have
been damaged by parents, teachers, the media and their peers. Damage by
drugs (of which the use outside prescribed medical is always abuse) and
alcohol (which is used by billions without abuse but can be abused) is
likely to follow. "The British public are not idiots" we are always
being told. Unfortunately a great many of them and our American friends
are so confused and misinformed that they might well be becoming such.
Professor Nutt, in advocating Cannabis and Ecstasy as safer
alternatives to horse-riding and social drinking is showing some early
symptoms. He still doesn't understand why he has been sacked.
It is not for disagreeing, or for letting the public know he disagrees,
but for using his status as government advisor to push his personal
political stance on politics, drugs and the decisions of government. He
has a very privileged position in which he was able to make quite sure
that all his view were heard at all levels. Because he does not run the
policy he has turned to abuse. He is not the best person for the job. I
can add here that my advice to government was the same as Professor
Nutt's, as anyone who has read my entry on Cannabis and The Law can
see; but I am content to see it politcally overruled for perfectly
sound, if complex reasons which involve other imperfections in our
social and administrative structures.
The largely student audience of 'Any Questions' at Cambridge vote 100%
his sacking. It is that 100% which gives us the clue, revealing that it
could only come about if the question posed was a misrepresentaion of
the real issue which, if properly presented could easily get an 80%
vote or higher in the opposite direction. I am happy to class this
audience not as independent thinkers, as
the chairman suggested, but easily influenced sheep, confused as are so
many and led by the oldest trick in the book.
It was not necessary for Nutt to be sacked even for his behaviour
if he had remained the best man for the job, but he clearly is not - on
scientific grounds any more than political. End of argument.
At least it should be but, incredibly, neither Colin Blakemore ir David
King, though they get very close, can 'get their heads round' the issue
an bring themselves to tell Nutt publicly that he is just plain wrong
because, as both of these two admit, the classification table always
had a function of relating to the law and its use, which is tactical and
therefore a political matter beyond the field of pure science or the
responsibility of scientific advisers, whose advice in this case was (a
fact strangely ignored by most) far from unanimous.
November 2nd 2009
Yesterday and again today we had Lord Winston wading in to defend Prof
Nutt. Lord Winston is himself a man whose science (like all scientists)
is imperfect (as they would all happily admit) and whose policy advice
is personal and in my view sadly misguided most of the time (until he
changes it) as it is often based on false premises.
It is the preposterous position of some of these 'scientists' that they
have in their analyses all the data that could possibly be used to take
a rational political decision. That being he case, they say, they are
free as official scientific advisers not only to give advice but to
advise the public on the competence of those they advise if the latter
do not devise and implement policies according to their instructions.
They now want an official status that give them this authority,
disguised as a simple right to freedom of speech. As someone who has
always proposed more scientific advisors for government and more of
their advice being taken, I for one can now see the error of my ways. I
forgot one of the very earliest gems of wisdom that was imparted to me:
a little knowledge
is a dangerous thing - and a little knowledge is indeed what
these fellows have.