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Nutt Sacked

By John Clarke

This week has been a massive middle finger not only to every single sci­entist, but also to legal highs users all across the UK. Today, I’m going to be moaning about both.

Malcolm Tucker: The angriest man on telly

Malcolm Tucker: The angriest man on telly

Firstly, as everyone will know Prof. David Nutt was sacked as head of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Ever since this news broke, I’ve not been able to shake the image of Prof. Nutt getting a bol­locking from Malcolm out of The Thick Of It. On its own, this isn’t big news; people get sacked all the time. But the reason why he got sacked is gobsmacking.

The Situation

It all started in 2008 when the gov­ern­ment decided can­nabis was far more deadly than ever before, what with all these new “skunk” strains appearing, and reclas­si­fied it back up to Class B. Of course, because the can­nabis was “much stronger” than in pre­vious years (for more on why that’s total horse shit, read Bad Science), everyone who smokes it will get schizo­phrenia, or so Gordon “Golden” Brown would have us believe. Actu­ally, he just pulled that straight out of his arse. Prof. Nutt, et al., wise to this bull­shit­tery, recom­mended against the reclas­si­fic­a­tion and was ignored. More recently, Dave (I’m sure I can call him Dave) pub­lished a paper com­paring the dangers of ecstasy with the dangers of horse riding, finding that horse riding was actu­ally more dan­gerous — “Equasy — An over­looked addic­tion with implic­a­tions for the current debate on drug harms”. This wasn’t a piece of pro­pa­ganda pub­lished by some idgit with an agenda; it was a paper in a peer-​​reviewed journal, along­side other fac­tu­ally accurate and inter­esting pub­lic­a­tions — all Dave did was let the evid­ence speak for itself. Dave’s final piss-​​take of current policy came when he delivered a lecture on entitled “Estim­ating drug harms: a risky busi­ness?” [pdf; 366 kb], basic­ally saying the same thing that this episode of Horizon says — heroin, cocaine, bar­bit­ur­ates and meth­adone are the only drugs more harmful than alcohol, while LSD, ecstasy and can­nabis are all less harmful that both alcohol and tobacco. As a result, Alan Johnson, our beloved home sec­retary and ex-​​postman, has lost con­fid­ence in the advice given by Dave, with over 40 years of rel­evant sci­entific back­ground in the subject. Here are my top quotes (and inter­pret­a­tions) from Alan “I’m a fucking moron” Johnson:

This was not about Prof Nutt’s views, which I respect though I don’t agree with them.

This means “I don’t under­stand the import­ance of evid­ence” or “I dis­agree with the evid­ence because it doesn’t support my conclusion”

You cannot have a chief adviser… cam­paigning against government

This means “We’re not willing to accept advice that goes against the polit­ical message we’re trying to send”

There are not many kids in my con­stitu­ency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thou­sands at risk of being sucked into a world of hope­less despair through drug addiction.

This means “What goes on in my con­stitu­ency is applic­able to the entire country.”

More Dangerous Than Ecstasy

More Dan­gerous Than Ecstasy

This last (and most recent quote) is my favourite. Not only does it show an unbe­liev­able arrog­ance, it also shows a deep mis­un­der­standing of either the research or his con­stitu­ency. Horse riding kills more people than ecstasy — that’s a fact. Is he arguing that thou­sands of people are at risk from a hitherto-​​unheard-​​of ecstasy addic­tion? Bol­locks!  Or is he perhaps saying that all drugs are a problem? In that case, the com­par­ison to horse riding isn’t fair, since that only applies to ecstasy, not all drugs. Who’d have thought that one single sen­tence could make someone look so stupid? Oh, and one final point — what about cheap, legal alcohol? I wonder how many people in his con­stitu­ency have been sucked into hope­less despair though alcohol addiction?

Why Dave Is In The Right

Firstly, the Code o’ Prac­tice for Sci­entific Advisory Com­mit­tees states:

Rules of conduct need not affect a member’s freedom to rep­resent his or her field of expertise in a per­sonal capa­city. The committee’s rules however should gen­er­ally oblige members to make clear when they are not speaking in their capa­city as com­mittee members.

Guess what — the lecture was given as the Pro­fessor of Neuro­psy­cho­phar­ma­co­logy at Imperial College, London, not as chairman of the ACMD. This was made per­fectly clear. BAM! Next, the Misuse of Drugs act includes the fol­lowing within the ACMD’s remit:

edu­cating the public (and in par­tic­ular the young) in the dangers of mis­using such drugs and for giving pub­li­city to those dangers

BOOM! If that includes setting the current drugs policy straight in order to better com­mu­nicate the rel­ative harms of illegal drugs, then well done Dave for doing the job you were hired to do!

The Resignations

So far, other than Dave, Dr Les King and Marrion Walker have resigned. Les is part-​​time advisor to the Depart­ment of Health, and was a senior chemist on the ACMD, who’s respons­ible for drafting the legis­la­tion I’ll talk about shortly. Marrion is the clin­ical dir­ector of Berkshire Health­care NHS Found­a­tion Trust’s sub­stance misuse service and was the Royal Phar­ma­ceut­ical Society’s rep­res­ent­ative on the ACMD. As you can imagine, the resig­na­tion of these key figures has been a massive blow to the ACMD’s future credibility.

With any luck, the rest of them will resign next Monday, and no other respect­able sci­entist will take their place.

What YOU Can Do About It

Face­book has been the primary theatre of action in this con­flict between reason and the idiot brigade in power. If you use Face­book, you might like to join the “Support and Rein­state Pro­fessor David Nutt: We want an evid­ence based drugs policy.” group, which has been set up by the Stu­dents for Sens­ible Drug Policy UK. There are tonnes of com­ments, dis­cus­sion, links ‘n’ all that, and it’s cur­rently just over 8600 members strong. Alan Johnson’s Face­book page was public until very recently. Last time I went on there, it was covered in com­ments informing him of his own stupidity.

There are also a couple of worth­while peti­tions UK res­id­ents can sign:

And finally, I’d suggest writing to your local MP. Obvi­ously, an actual letter would carry more weight than an email, but if you’ve got 10 mins to spare, you can use the website WriteToThem to find your local MP and fire off an email. I sent one off yes­terday and got an encour­aging reply this morning. I copied one someone else wrote from that Face­book group above and edited a few bits here ‘n’ there, and if you do the same, please edit my letter before you send it — that website won’t send identical mes­sages. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Lynne Jones,

I am writing to express my dis­ap­point­ment at the recent sacking of Pro­fessor David Nutt, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by the current Home Sec­retary, Alan Johnson.

It is the role and duty of a sci­entist to object­ively determine truth and fact about the way in which the world works, and to present the evid­ence demon­strating those facts. Whether such facts are con­venient, incon­venient, com­fort­able or uncom­fort­able or happen to con­tra­dict gov­ern­ment policy is irrel­evant. A sci­entist influ­enced by polit­ical expedi­ency is not a scientist.

I fully under­stand that advisers advise and that min­is­ters are respons­ible for decisions on policy, but the terms of ref­er­ence of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as laid down in the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 include the following:

“edu­cating the public (and in par­tic­ular the young) in the dangers of mis­using such drugs and for giving pub­li­city to those dangers; ”

Pro­fessor Nutt has made public remarks about the rel­ative risks of the use of sub­stances cur­rently illegal in the UK, com­paring them to other legal sub­stances and other common leisure pur­suits. This fulfils the remit, quoted above, of ‘edu­cating the public’, espe­cially since the current drugs clas­si­fic­a­tion system does nothing to high­light the rel­ative harms of illegal drugs.

In this case, the facts, as determ­ined by the sci­entific method, may well cause many members of the public to ques­tion current Gov­ern­ment policy. This is only right and proper in a democracy.

By asking Pro­fessor Nutt to stand down, the Home Sec­retary has sent a message that he finds it accept­able to disrupt the edu­ca­tion of the public and that he is willing to sup­press those who have a clear remit to present the public with facts in order to do this.

It is also worth noting that the doc­u­ment: “Putting Science and Engin­eering at the Heart of Gov­ern­ment Policy: Gov­ern­ment Response to the Innov­a­tion, Uni­ver­sities, Science and Skills Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2008-​​09 — Science and Tech­no­logy Com­mittee ” states the fol­lowing in Appendix One:

SAC members should not be cri­ti­cised for pub­lishing sci­entific papers or making state­ments as pro­fes­sionals, inde­pendent of their role as Gov­ern­ment advisers. (Para­graph 64)

“The Gov­ern­ment agrees that the inde­pend­ence of science advisers is crit­ical. It was pre­cisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-​​Home Sec­retary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her cri­ti­cism, in Par­lia­ment, of Pro­fessor Nutt (Chairman of ACMD) with regard to an article he pub­lished in a peer-​​reviewed journal. ”

To my mind, the actions of the Home Sec­retary are undemo­cratic, dis­honest, an attempted sup­pres­sion of freedom of speech and a middle finger to anyone who under­stands and appre­ci­ates the sci­entific method.

Should not the Home Sec­retary now be con­sid­ering his position?

I would be grateful for your thoughts.

Yours sin­cerely,
John Clarke

Here’s her reply:

I agree with you. When the issue if reclas­si­fying can­nabis back to class B in 2007, I tabled the fol­lowing par­lia­mentary motion:

EDM 209


That this House sup­ports the mental health charity Rethink in its call for a public edu­ca­tion cam­paign to convey the dangers of can­nabis use; offers this support in light of the recent review of research pub­lished in the Lancet, which con­cludes that fre­quency of can­nabis use increases the risk of psychotic illness such as schizo­phrenia by up to 40 per cent.; calls for clarity on the can­nabis debate, par­tic­u­larly regarding the strength of skunk vari­eties of the drug; believes that reclas­si­fying can­nabis will not in itself lead to a decrease in the number of people who use it; notes that the pro­por­tion of young people using can­nabis has actu­ally fallen since it was reclas­si­fied in January 2004 from 25.3 per cent. of 16 to 24 year olds in 2003-​​04 to 20.9 per cent. in 2006-​​07; and urges the Gov­ern­ment to commit to the devel­op­ment of a long-​​term aware­ness and inform­a­tion cam­paign with health pro­mo­tion rather than a change in the law as the main lever to reduce use, in addi­tion to funding research into the link between can­nabis use and mental ill health.

If search under can­nabis on my website, link below, you will find further inform­a­tion on my views and a report of a meeting of the All-​​Party Group on Mental Health on can­nabis and schizophrenia.

I will pass on your com­ments to the Home Sec­retary to get his response.

Per­son­ally, as a former sci­entist myself, I despair at the selective use of science by col­leagues from all parties and this latest example will no doubt give me further oppor­tun­ities to raise my con­cerns. [My emphasis]



House of Commons


That’s cer­tainly much better than I’d have hoped!

Legal Highs ban

Next up is the BZP/​GBL/​Spice ban — here’s the pro­posal [pdf; 46 kb]. It looks like it goes into effect on December 23rd. I can’t give much more detail yet, since I’m not really a chemist, but it looks like all the decent smoking mixes will be gone by then. Better stock up before Christmas. :(.

3 Responses to Nutt Sacked

  1. max says:

    wow, i can’t believe it’s finally hap­pening, i was expecting another year before the ban, maybe labour wanted to get this done before the elec­tion? a sad day for legal highs indeed. this news com­bined with “nutt’s sacking” has made this week par­tic­u­larly frus­trating for me!

  2. Louis says:

    Great post! Totally agree with everything stated clearly and consicely. A good read.

  3. Rhys says:

    Prof Nut and these under­ground psycho-​​therapist are fighting the same fight. Good luck to them all.

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