UK: Can the politics bail on scientific advise?

21 07 2010

“All too often governments make political policy choices rather than evidence-based ones. This approach has caused deep consternation among the scientific community in the UK, where a schism now exists between the government and its scientific advisers.
The trouble started last October after David Nutt, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was sacked for publicly speaking out against the government’s decision to ignore the ACMD’s advice on cannabis.

In November, the scientific community, though understandably angry at the way in which the government had treated a respected scientific adviser, decided to respond in a constructive manner. 90 senior scientists, scientific advisers, and Sense about Science—an independent charity promoting good science for the public—drafted a set of principles on the treatment of scientific advice and sent them to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The principles fall under three themes: academic freedom to express views openly without restriction, independence of operation, and proper consideration of advice by ministers. The code enshrined what scientific advice to government should be—independent of political interference and ideology.
How did the government respond? It redrafted the principles to suit its agenda. Most notably, the government dropped academic freedom as a principle and inserted “trust and respect”. Under this heading it states that: “The government and its scientific advisers should work together to reach a shared position, and neither should act to undermine mutual trust.” However, asking scientific advisers to collude with government to reach a “shared position” on policies would undermine the independence of scientific advice. Essentially, these revisions represent an attempt by government to avoid any future public dissent from its scientific advisers.

The government must now listen to the concerns that have been raised over its version of the principles and revise them accordingly. Doing so will restore the confidence of both the scientific community and the public in ministerial policy making. It will also help to repair the damaged relationship that exists between the government and its scientific advisers.”

This is what the Lancet wrote about the issue in February this year. Since then, a new government has been formed out of a coalition between the Tory (conservatives) and the Lib-Dem.

But yet, nothing has been done to ensure independent scientific advice to be considered by the parliament.

It looks like ex Prime Minister G. Brown left the draft in a secure place or that the new government has other more important issues (?!)

Source: The Lancet





New UK Government’s drug adviser Les Iversen seems to have a selective memory

14 01 2010

Les Iversen wanted cannabis legalisedAnother crazy news story from the UK. As you might have read on this blog, David Nutt was sacked because of him criticizing the Government’s decision to reclassify cannabis as a Class B substance.. He argued that the scientific research was devaluated and the UK government making an “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

If you thought that was strange, wait until you hear this.. The new chairman that will replace David Nutt, Les Iversen, had exactly the same opinion with regards to Cannabis. During a lecture in 2003 he said the following;

“There have been no deaths to date caused by use of cannabis. Cannabis should be legalised, not just decriminalized, because it is comparatively less dangerous than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.”

In an article in 2003 he wrote that cannabis had been incorrectly classified for nearly 50 years as a dangerous drug and that it was one of the “safer” recreational drugs.

When he was questioned about these remarks during an interview on BBC Radio 5 Professor Iversen stated the following; “I don’t remember saying that. It’s certainly not my position now”

“We have now to confront the more potent forms of cannabis. We have the new evidence that arose since 2003 linking cannabis to psychiatric illness. I think it’s quite free for a scientist to change his mind when faced with new facts.”

We wonder what these new facts are? Is it the fact that he will get sacked, like David Nutt,  if he says that cannabis should be legalized? Or the fact that he would never have been appointed in the first place if he still had that opinion?

Read the full article





Chairman Of British Advisory Drug Council Got Sacked

2 11 2009

cannabis drug advisory council evidende disregardedLast week we talked about Professor David Nutt, the (former) chairman of the Britisch Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He accused ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of “devaluing” scientific research and making an “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.

Professor Nutt used a lecture at King’s College in London and a briefing paper to attack the way British politicians ignore scientific evidence and the contradictory and incoherent nature of the U.K’s current drug policy.

Alan Johnson, the current British home secretary, has asked Professor Nutt to resign because his comments “damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs”.

We feel the message David Nutt was trying to get across couldn’t be any clearer. Some of the most harmful drugs are legal, while other less harmful drugs are illegal. How is this not clear, Mr Johnson?

Anger over the “disgraceful” decision by the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to remove Professor David Nutt could lead to a meltdown in the 40-year-old organisation. As many as six of its scientists may resign from the independent organisation, putting further pressure on the Government over its handling of the affair.

The row has wider ramifications for the relationship between politicians and scientists, many of whom are concerned at Mr Johnson’s reaction to Professor Nutt’s comments. Dr King said: “Academics, medics and others are going to ask themselves if they want to serve on these agencies without payment, on their own time and expense, when the advice that they produce is routinely ignored.”

Dr Les King, a respected chemist and former head of the Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Forensic Science Service, said; “What we say is objective and evidence-based. Sometimes people do not want to hear that. The Government has a statutory obligation to consult the council before it makes any changes to the classification of drugs – the Misuse of Drugs Act is clear about that. If significant figures resign, it cannot function any more, and without a change to the Act of Parliament the Government cannot make any changes.” Members of the council, which meets twice a year, are due to gather again on 10 November, when discussions will be dominated by Professor Nutt’s sacking. But the resignations are likely to occur sooner, said Dr King.

Read the full article on independent.co.uk





Top U.K government scientist says: Cannabis evidence ‘was devalued’

29 10 2009

We came across this interesting thread on the BBC website which refers to a lecture given by Professor David Nutt, of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.  Professor Nutt used a lecture at King’s College in London and a briefing paper to attack what he called the “artificial” separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs, accusing ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of “devaluing” scientific research. He also criticizes the scare-tactics of the U.K government on the issue and claims that the link between cannabis use and schizophrenia is hugely over-exaggerated;  This story has some traction and has been on rotation on both BBC News 24 and British terrestrial television!  It is a blow to the U.K government as Professor Nutt is the new chairman of the Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – popularly known as the government’s “Drug Czar”.

Many observers are worried about the contradictory and incoherent nature of the U.K’s current drug policy which clearly hasn’t worked – The U.K has the 3rd largest cannabis consumption rate in the western world! The Home Secretary has herself admitted to smoking cannabis as a student whilst attending Oxford University – making her a MASSIVE hypocrite – if she had been caught under her own rules, she would never have been able to hold the position of Home Secretary!

I also came across a video on the subject… enjoy!

Heres some links to other relevant articles that we’ve found on the BBC website:
Debate over cannabis classification
Q&A: Cannabis and health
Q&A: Cannabis guidelines

Its also interesting to see what the BBC themselves have to say about cannabis, it’s actually a really good, balanced and informative piece which drew a smile from us all!








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