Nov 12, 2009

#Nuttsack sparks debate about science and society

The UK's Nuttsack affair has sparked the question: can a scientific adviser give advice without talking about policy? If they can, should they? asks Science blogger Michael Slezak.

A very serious affair with a very amusing hash-tag is spiralling out of control in the UK. #Nuttsack is the twitter hash-tag for the sacking of the UK's chief drug adviser, Professor David Nutt. Although utterly scandalous, the sacking and its blowback might lead to some positive changes and to a public more engaged in debates about the relationship between science and society.

Nearly two weeks ago the chair of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Professor Nutt, was sacked by  Home Secretary Alan Johnson for arguing publicly that the government's policy on drugs was not supported by the evidence.

Soon after, two other advisers quit in protest. Yesterday, after a meeting that Johnson described as very constructive, three more drug advisers quit -- leaving the ACMD paralysed, unable to meet quorum.

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2 thoughts on “#Nuttsack sparks debate about science and society

  1. Roger Clifton

    It would be good if the Rudd government restored the climatologists of CSIRO and BOM to the status of Australia’s authorities on climate change and what we should do about it.

    Perhaps that will have to wait until we have a government which is willing to heed their advice.

  2. robbi64

    Some further background may help people understand why there is such a debate about cannabis use – and why politicians are getting jumpy about it.

    Psychology is currently having a hot debate about whether cannabis might cause psychosis. There are several studies about demonstrating a link, particularly in the population known to be vulnerable to schizophrenia. There are also a few studies showing brain damage in PTSD sufferers who use cannabis regularly.

    These studies are all very small and limited, and very much confined to an abnormal population. What we cannot say is which comes first, chicken or egg. It is interesting to note that this uncertainty has not stopped some people in psychology from suggesting that these limited studies constitute “proof” of cannabis causing harm … when the herb has been used all over the place for centuries and has never been strongly linked with causing harm before the 20th century. We cannot say the same about alcohol, yet these same people are not pushing for alcohol use to be criminalised?

    I suppose it would be a long bow, if I were to suggest that drugs didn’t really get commercialised and marketed until the 20th century. Prior to then, people self medicated as they saw fit, and we did not have a PBS or GlaxoSmithKline. As I have done no studies into it myself, I can only wonder about the apparent coincidence.

    Anyway, the pollies get put under a lot of pressure by all sorts of mental health lobbies. They are hopeless at dealing with this issue, so anything they can do to make it look like they’re Doing Something Useful, they’ll grab at. Hence, they’ll even do things like tell independent scientists to give them what they want to hear, or get out.

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