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UK Government Shows Its True ‘Scientific’ Colors

The UK Government has been at the forefront of AGW for a long time now. All in good intent and fully based on scientific evidence, of course.

Anybody needing any further “proof” of that, look no further than the sacking today of Professor David Nutt, the UK’s chief drugs adviser and utterer yesterday of confidence-losing advice (basically, expert opinion the Government didn’t want to hear).

Prof. Nutt was head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, “an independent(*) expert body that advises government on drug related issues in the UK.

(*) best joke of 2009

  1. richardscourtney
    2009/11/03 at 02:21

    Maurizio:

    You make a good case concerning the UK Government being “hypocritical” in its claims to “evidence-based policy” concerning health and climate matters. But I would think you make a good case because I share your opinion on these matters.

    However, as I said, there are two issues here and they are
    (a) the right of civil servant to oppose government policy,
    and
    (b) UK government policy on recreational drugs.

    I only discussed issue (a), and I explained that,
    “It is the job of government scientists to not be independent and to only support government policy. If they oppose government policy then they can expect to be censured and sacked.”

    That explanation is demonstrated as being true by statements made in the House of Commons this afternoon. Politicians on both the Government and the Opposition benches vilified Nutt for speaking against Government policy, and both sides of the House supported Nutt having been dismissed from his job as Chair of the Advisory Committee.

    The problem is that politicians are answerable to public opinion. They are not answerable to scientific evidence. So, in many cases – including drugs policy – politicians do not have and cannot have an “evidence-based policy”.

    In general, scientists have an exagerated opinion of their own worth to politicians because scientists tend to overvalue empirical evidence as a guide to political decision-making. Hence, most scientists are naive concerning the realities of politics. A good example of this naivete is the case of climate policy pertaining to anthropogenic (i.e. man-made) global warming (AGW).

    Politicians are responding to the AGW-scare by trying to constrain anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), notably carbon dioxide (CO2). Such constraints would do much harm and, therefore, they should not be accepted unless absolutely necessary. But politicians of several countries are committed to their having accepted the AGW-scare as being a potential threat which warrants the constraints.

    Politicians need a viable reason if they are to back-off from this commitment to the constraints without losing face.
    They cannot say they were wrong to have supported AGW because that would lose them votes.
    And they cannot be seen to be doing nothing in response to the AGW scare because that would lose them votes.

    But scientists who are sceptical of the AGW scare often assert,
    “Politicians should have the courage to do nothing in the light of the scientific evidence that the AGW-scare is over stated”.
    This assertion is naive because doing nothing in response to the AGW-scare is not an option available to politicians.

    Most scientists are politically naive and those who are can expect to get burned if they get too close to the heat of politics. Nutt has shown himself to be extremely politically naive.

    Regards

    Richard

    • 2009/11/03 at 02:28

      I’ll reply in the light of the day…yes Nutt eg on the radio sounded out of his depth…but how could an “independent expert body” ever be chaired by a non-independent scientist?

      But please stay tuned, there’s an upcoming blog about politically naive scientists!!

  2. richardscourtney
    2009/11/02 at 13:44

    Maurizio:

    Two issues seem to be confused here; viz.
    The right of civil servant to oppose government policy,
    and
    UK government policy on recreational drugs.

    I write to comment on the right of civil servant to oppose government policy.

    Objection to Nutt having been sacked is an example of a continuing misunderstanding.

    The misunderstanding is that civil servants – be they “scientists” or anything else – are entitled to provide independent opinions: but civil servants are not permitted to provide personal opinions to the public.

    Government scientists provide governments with scientific information that government needs to justify government policies. They may also provide government with ‘warnings’ in the form of additional and contra-information but any such provision must be strictly confidential between them and government. Government scientists are not entitled to make any public statements that contradict government policy because such public statements are in direct contravention of their task as government scientists.

    Independent scientists provide independent information and assessments. They do this privately and confidentially. And the confidentiality includes their having no official connection or input to government (but governments commission them to provide confidential information to governments). Hence, independent scientists can publicly express any view they like.

    I was employed by the UK’s National Coal Board (NCB) for decades. The NCB was state-owned and, therefore, I was indirectly employed by UK government. Throughout that employment I was not permitted to make any public statement that would contradict UK government policies concerning energy, coal and/or environmental issues. If I had made such a public statement then I would have been dismissed from my employment and would have had all my pension rights removed. If I wanted to make such statements then I would have needed to resign from that employment first. Having ceased that employment and now being an independent scientist, I can and do publicly oppose such government policies.

    Nutt was not in paid employment but he was appointed to Chair a UK Government ‘Advisory’ Committee: this appointment was unpaid employment as a civil servant. Nutt gained professional credibility from his job for the government, and that credibility was his reward for the job.
    Despite his lack of monetary payment, Nutt was in a similar situation concerning his employment by UK Government as I was in my employment by NCB.

    It is the job of government scientists to not be independent and to only support government policy. If they oppose government policy then they can expect to be censured and sacked.

    Nutt seems to have forgotten what all scientist employed by governments should know; i.e. no dog has ever been permitted to bite the hand that feeds it.

    Regards

    Richard

    • 2009/11/03 at 01:21

      Richard – you might agree with me that the inner mores of the British “Mandarin” community are at best obscure to the general populace.

      But IMNSHO they are also not too relevant to what is happening now, because the Nutt/Johnson spat is being played in public.

      Nutt might be mistaken in trying to make policy himself (he had a particularly poor turn during last Saturday’s Today programme on Radio4) , but it is hard not to ultimately fault the underlying hypocritical position of the UK Government, still officially a fan of “evidence-based policy”…despite all evidence to the contrary: in climate science as in public health policy.

  3. 2009/11/02 at 00:13

    Click on my name to participate in poll on whether David Nutt should have sacked.

    The debate SHOULD centre on the concept of harm and whether this can be quantified.

    If it cannot, then all drugs should be legalised and criminals who commit crimes while intoxicated and addicted treated more harshly.

    This would be the fairest way since harm to the public would then have manifested itself in criminal behaviour and thus become objectively measurable.

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