David Nutt: why was he sacked as chief drugs advisor?

Earlier today Home Secretary asked the Government’s chief drugs advisor, Professor David Nutt, to resign.

The government line is that he was “asked” to resign but, outside the world of pedantic spin doctors who watch too much of The Thick of It, being “asked” to resign is the same as being sacked.

But what’s more concerning is the reason for him being removed. The Home Secretary has said the reason for sacking him is that, “I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy”.

But David Nutt isn’t being accused of getting evidence wrong (even though some of it gets into highly controversial areas) or of dressing up his own views as really being government policy. What the Home Secretary has objected is not the quality of advice he’s been getting, but rather that the advisor has then drawn conclusions from the advice that he doesn’t like and mentioned them in public.

In other words, advisors should either agree with the Home Secretary, not think about the implications of their evidence or just plain shut up. Are any of those three alternatives really preferable?

Good decision making doesn’t just require good evidence, it also requires sceptical opinions. A wise Cabinet minister should welcome a diversity of views – especially some that make them feel uncomfortable. The short-term pleasure of being surrounded by people who only speak out to agree with you nearly always falls apart as decision making then deteriorates badly.

UPDATE: Good to see this quote from Chris Huhne:

“The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is simply not independent if its chair can be sacked for telling the Government what it does not want to hear.

“Ministers have constantly ignored the advice of experts when it comes to drug policies and pressed ahead with their own prejudices.

“If ministers care so little for independent scientific advice, they should save public money by sacking the entire group of experts and instead appoint a committee of tabloid editors.”

UPDATE 2: I guess today’s news means the answer to the question on Mark Reckons is “yes”, though perhaps not quite in the way intended when the question was posed…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.