Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nutt Sacking

So Professor David Nutt has been sacked by Alan Johnson, for pointing out that the evidence on drugs doesn't say what the government would like it to say, and is predicting a backlash. Mark Easton says "there may be significant fall-out". Good.

It seems to me that the best evidence we could have that independent scientific advice is truly independent is that, when it's ignored by the government for political and ideological reasons, it results in a public bunfight. Not that dissent is quashed to avoid embarassment for the politicians. This should be a public scandal - "Government Scientific Advisor Fired For Disagreeing" - the sort of shoot-the-messenger idiocy that lead the Soviets into Lysenkoism.

I doubt anyone is naïve enough to believe that the Executive actually want independent advice - they want to claim to have taken independent advice, and they want to be supported, but that's cargo-cult decision-making. It's the child sitting (on a pile of cushions) on his dad's chair, peering over the top of the desk, looking intently at a "report", and "evaluating" it - he's seen his dad do the same thing, and he knows how he has to look, but not why or what's going on behind the scenes.

Scientific advice isn't there to provide a veneer of legitimacy; its role isn't to support extant policy decisions; its internal disagreements aren't justification to give "equal time to both sides" or to pick the one which best fits your prejudices. Scientific advice is there to provide a sound basis for rational decision-making.

Ignore it at your peril.

- KoW

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