The evidence in favour of Prof Nutt- Financial Times Editorial
He sacked Professor David Nutt, a renowned neuropharmacologist, as chairman of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for insisting publicly that last year’s upgrade of cannabis to a Class B drug was not justified by the evidence.
If Mr Johnson had thought through the consequences of his action, he would surely have consulted Lord Drayson, the science minister, and John Beddington, government chief scientist. They would have warned him of the outcry and dismay that Prof Nutt’s dismissal would cause.
At stake is not just the future of the ACMD, an important body that has helped to formulate drugs policy for more than 30 years, but as many as 80 other scientific councils and committees across government. These advise on everything from food and nutrition to climate change, and they depend on the unpaid part-time service of hundreds of scientists (mainly working in universities because industry researchers are often ignored for having alleged conflicts of interest).
Indeed the row has implications beyond what most people would think of as science. Ultimately it is about the relationship between evidence and policy.
Of course scientific advice is not sacrosanct. Governments have the right to over-ride the evidence for broader policy reasons – but only if they do so openly and without gagging their advisers.
Mr Johnson is unlikely to pay a high political price for the Nutt affair, because the Conservative opposition, to its shame, supports the professor’s sacking. Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, wants to outdo Mr Johnson in his hard line on illegal drugs, whatever the evidence. Only the Liberal Democrats are prepared to take a broader (and wiser) view of the need to encourage experts to give governments independent advice.