Monday, November 02, 2009

David Nutt's sacking provokes mass revolt against Alan Johnson.

This won't have even registered on the radar of most American readers, but the current British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, is facing a mass resignation of staff over his decision to fire the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for stating that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes.

Two members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs resigned today in protest at Alan Johnson's treatment of Professor David Nutt. Another member told the Guardian that the experts were "planning collective action" against Johnson, adding: "Everybody is devastated. We're all considering our positions."

Nutt said today that there was "no future" for the council in its present form and it is thought the group's members may use a meeting next Monday to announce a mass resignation.

In a letter in tomorrow's Guardian, Johnson accuses Nutt of "campaigning against government policy" but insists he was not forced out because of his opinions.

"Professor Nutt was not sacked for his views, which I respect but disagree with," he writes. "He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy."

Johnson can make any claim he wants regarding why he fired Nutt, but most people will still realise that what Nutt said was basically true.

Far more deaths occur in this country due to alcohol and cigarette use than occur from ecstasy or LSD abuse; that is simply a fact.

And, if he's firing Nutt for going against government policy - whilst we all know that what Nutt said was basically true - then surely we should be looking at the government's policy rather than simply firing those who disagree with it; especially when they are doing so on medical grounds.

As the controversy intensified today, Nutt said he had been contacted by more than half the council's members who had shared their "horror and disgust" over the manner of his dismissal and were now considering resigning en masse.

Dr Les King, a former head of drug intelligence at the Forensic Science Service, was first to act, followed by Marion Walker, head of the substance misuse service at Berkshire NHS foundation trust.

King said he had decided to step down because he felt Johnson had denied Nutt his "freedom of expression".

He said that while the government had "a right" to reject the panel's advice, its attitude towards the advisory body had changed.

Nutt said he could "fully understand" why his two former colleagues had chosen to resign. "The government has interfered with the scientific processes of the panel for several years and it has caused significant resentment," he said.

"People are very much considering their positions and they have made it clear they will not continue under the current regime. There is no future for the advisory committee on the misuse of drugs in the current way it operates."

You can't have an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and fire any member of that Council who disagrees with government policy. It's alright to disagree with their advice, it's fine to say that you see where they are coming from but that you respectfully can't join them in their position, but to fire them for saying what they think is simply suicidal.

Indeed, if anything Johnson has done more to highlight how ridiculous the government's policy actually is than if he had just ignored Nutt's comments completely.

At the moment it looks as if Nutt has been fired for telling the truth.

But the home secretary found himself under fire from members of the scientific community. Lord Winston, the Labour peer and professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said he was "very surprised and disappointed" by Johnson's actions.

"I think that if governments appoint expert advice they shouldn't dismiss it so lightly," he said.

"I think it shows a rather poor understanding of the value of science."

On Nutt's claims that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, Winston said: "The overwhelming evidence is probably cannabis is actually less harmful than tobacco or alcohol, that's what the chief scientist is saying."

He added: "I think that's a very reasonable scientific point to make. And of course, science is not about absolutes."

Johnson would have served himself better by ignoring Nutt's comments, because when he tries to defend why he did what he did we come back again and again to those tiresome things called facts: and the facts don't back up government policy.

Click here for full article.

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