Friday, 30 October 2009
ANOTHER EXPERT TURNS OUT TO KNOW LESS THAN A GOVERNMENT MINISTER
The Government’s expert advisor on drugs has been sacked by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary for erm ...giving an opinion on drugs to his university.
Professor David Nutt MRCP, MRCPsych, FRCPsych, FMedSci, of the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, pointed out that all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, should be ranked by a "harm" index with alcohol coming fifth behind cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and methadone.
Tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
Prof Nutt said: "No one is suggesting that drugs are not harmful. The critical question is one of scale and degree. We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for - and whether they are doing their job."
The Professor was not talking for the government when he made these assertions. He was giving a lecture and briefing paper for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, when he attacked what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs.
Prof Nutt is the Chairman of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He is, as you might have guessed from the list of letters after his name, his work at Imperial College and the fact that he has reached professorial rank, something of an expert on the the subject. He can't be expected to tow the government line and in doing so feed faulse information to his students. Academe isn't really like that. Experts are there to be.... well...expert.
So Alan Johnson has sacked him, because his expert opinion doesn’t fit with the government’s policy that drink and cigarettes are less harmful than other drugs. With the greatest respect to Mr Johnson, I don’t think that he can begin to have the Professor’s understanding of the subject. Strangely, at the time of writing, the government has not put up anyone to argue their case on the news channels, perhaps because no one in the home office has a clue how to counter what David Nutt has said.
Time and again this London government employs and pays experts to give advice, and time and again they ignore that advice. It has happened over education, over unemployment, over various aspects of health including alcohol, and as we know, it has happened over devolution.
I wonder if the next set of experts to bite the dust will be the ones who have been looking at MPs’ expenses. Doubtless they have got it all wrong too.