Evidence-based policy

I heard earlier on the news that Alan Johnson has sacked David Nutt as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, after he published this paper criticising the current drugs classification policy in the UK. To someone who has been following what passes for debate in this area for years, Professor Nutt has said little that comes as a surprise. However, after Nutt disagreed publicly with two Home Secretaries in as many years, Johnson has done what all politicians do in such circumstances and shot the messenger.

What chance is there for practical solutions to society’s worst problems when the highest powers in the land put their fingers in their ears and sing “la la la” any time they’re told things they don’t want to hear? It is clear that politicians don’t regard scientific research as a tool to inform the decision-making process. Instead, scientific evidence is treated with the same respect as criminal evidence often was in the bad old days of the ’70s. Call it the Gene Hunt method of policy formation. The politician already “knows” what the policy should be, and the only acceptable evidence is that which supports the right answer. The system continues safely on without its paradigms being shifted, and bad policy keeps getting implemented in the face of overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work.

It took years of campaigning and appeals to correct the wrongs perpetrated by the Gene Hunt method of police investigation, and times have thankfully changed for the better. But the Gene Hunt method lives on in policy formulation, which isn’t subject to appeal or judicial review. Who will take the side of the plain, unvarnished truth in the court of public opinion? Not government ministers, that’s for sure.

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3 thoughts on “Evidence-based policy

  1. Don’t you mean Alan Johnson? :-)

    It took years of campaigning and appeals to correct the wrongs perpetrated by the Gene Hunt method of police investigation, and times have thankfully changed for the better.

    Sadly you are very much mistaken here. See http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article6892830.ece for the latest example, again thanks to Alan Johnston. Once a Marxist, always a Marxist. Example scenario: someone copies your number plate and runs up a few thousand in London Congestion charges and penalties. You either immediately pay or else they use the POCA to freeze your bank accounts, raid your home etc. The agencies involved (TfL in this example, or a private debt collector they contract to) and hence their staff (e.g. via performance related pay) gets commission on what they seize, so there is no possibility of an objective decision. So much for Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

  2. 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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