The Home Secretary, trying to bale himself out of a quagmire of his own creation, has written to the Guardian:
......Professor Nutt is indeed a reputable scientist whose views on drugs policy are well known. However, his role as my principal adviser was to (unsurprisingly) present advice. It is the job of the government to decide policy.
Professor Nutt was not sacked for his views, which I respect but
disagree with (as does Professor Robin Murray, who wrote
in your newspaper on Friday).
He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy. This principle is well understood and long established.
As for his comments about horse riding being more dangerous than ecstasy, which you quote with such reverence, it is of course a political rather than a scientific point. 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.
Alan Johnson MP
When Dr Grumble was a student he was told never to write 'obviously' in his exam answers. It's certainly a bad word to use in essays. Words like 'obvious' or phrases like 'of course' are calculated to stop you thinking. Alan Johnson uses 'of course'. He claims, it seems, to have sacked Professor Nutt because he compared the risk of drugs with the risk of riding a horse. He says this is 'of course' a political point. Dr Grumble doesn't agree. Even as a scientist you need a yardstick rather than a figure to put risk on a scale which can be understood. This is particularly true if you need to express levels of risk to politicians or the public. But the concept is useful for scientists too. In the assessment of risk this is not unusual. It was not something that was calculated to embarrass Alan Johnson. It was just an aid to understanding.
Professor Nutt chose horse riding because it happens to be very risky. Dr Grumble knew this. He has seen the consequences. Yet many parents - though maybe not in Alan Johnson's constituency - might encourage their children to take up horse riding. Few would do the same when it came to drugs. Yet the risk for horse riding is much greater. Both are probably done for some sort of excitement. One is a fulfilling activity the other probably is not. It doesn't matter. It is just a yardstick.
We need such yardsticks. Parents need to grasp how likely it is for their child to be murdered in comparison to being run over on the road. It's important. Do we need to invest in looking out for child murderers or slowing the traffic? Those are the issues.
The trouble, of course (!) is the Daily Mail. It is more likely to fill its pages with stories of horrific child murders than car accidents. The Mail is unlikely to report many of the deaths related to alcohol and tobacco. There are just too many. The differential reporting of drug-related deaths in the press is something that David Nutt has pointed out. The likelihood of the press reporting a drug-related death depends on the drug. Some drugs, it seems, are more newsworthy than others. But the consequence is that the public's perception of risk is warped. It is important to point this out. The public needs to grasp the real risk and not the risk they perceive from reading newspapers. So do politicians.
Sometimes reporting of crime has a counterproductive effect. It has been claimed that reporting of knife crime increases the number of knives being carried by children. Why do you think that is? It is because the reports frighten children who then carry knives to protect themselves.
Similarly in the US people have guns to protect themselves. Yet, if you look at the data, they or their family are more likely to be shot as a result - because having a gun in the house is dangerous. You won't shoot yourself in the foot if you don't have a gun. Does Alan Johnson keep a gun?