02 November 2009

Open letter to the Home Secretary

Open letter to the Home Secretary from Richard Garside, director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

Dear Home Secretary,

I am writing to you about your decision to dismiss Professor David Nutt as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

It was the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies that asked Professor Nutt to present his analysis at a lecture at King's College London in July of this year. Following the lecture Professor Nutt agreed to our publishing an edited version, which we did last Thursday. A copy of this publication, along with the press release, can be accessed on our website here. The publicity material for the lecture can be viewed on our website here.

In your letter to Professor Nutt advising him that you were dismissing him from his role, you wrote that his contribution went `against the requirements on general standards of public life' required by his position as chair of the ACMD. You went on to write:

`As chair of the ACMD you cannot avoid appearing to implicate the Council in your comments and thereby undermining its scientific independence'.

I would like to make it clear that Professor Nutt gave his lecture, and agreed to its subsequent publication, in his capacity as the Edmond J Safra Chair of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. This is stated clearly in the original publicity and in the subsequent paper. Professor Nutt made some references to the ACMD in his paper as it was relevant to his argument. At no point did he make reference to his role as chair of the ACMD, nor did he give the impression that he was speaking on behalf of the ACMD.

I have to conclude that the public confusion between Professor Nutt's academic role and his chairmanship of the ACMD has been sowed by the Home Office, not by Professor Nutt nor by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

Academics who advise government should feel confident that they retain the freedom to act as independent researchers without the threat of political interference or undue pressure of any kind. It is in the public interest that you clarify your thinking on this matter and I look forward to receiving your response.


Richard Garside
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

2 November 2009


A. Medstudent said...

I'm really glad people are standing up to the government on this issue. New Labour has seemed to ignore advice from experts quite regularly for political reasons. MMC. EWTD for doctors in training. Allowing the encroachment of private companies in health care provision. Yada yada.

There seems to be a mistrust of expert professionals at the core of New Labour's philosophy. Teachers, policemen and women, doctors... all ignored. Dr David Kelly and colleagues? They turned out to have a point actually, didn't they?

I don't think this minor political spat will change very much, but I'm enjoying it nonetheless. Perhaps when the dust settles, those in power will be just that little bit more likely to listen to people who know what they're talking about, and a little less inclined to bully them into submission.

Dr Grumble said...

As you say this is a minor political spat which will change nothing. The politicians are in charge and that is that. There was very little support for Professor Nutt when Alan Johnson was questioned in parliament. It's not surprising. No parliamentarian cares about what Nutt is saying. They care only about how they think their voters will votes. The idea of leading and educating the public is not on their agenda. That is what leadership should be about. It is not about focus groups or responding to baying mobs or tabloids, it is about finding the right way forward. And I am in no way referring just to the drugs issue.

David Nutt has been misrepresented. He only really started shooting from the hip after he was 'sacked'. Before then he was just trying to educate. Perhaps some of his frustration came through in his lecture but I have heard many government advisers point out how the politicians do not necessarily do what they should. How can you be active in Nutt's field without pointing these things out?

If you point out, say, that alcohol is the real problem people get outraged. Yet alcohol kills people on a grand scale. So do cigarettes. There seems to be a feeling that because something is legal is can't be that bad and because something is illegal it is.

The issue is actually a very serious one. If you were a trainee lawyer and unfortunate enough to have people consuming cannabis at a party you threw it might just ruin your whole career. Yet the alcohol at the party is more likely to kill.

The public are not on Nutt's side. I was reading a post somewhere where the writer said that he didn't want any easing up on the laws against cannabis because he had a daughter. In the next sentence he admitted that she had nearly died of a ruptured spleen after falling off a horse. People do not understand even if the truth stares them in the face.