Three more members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) resigned last night after Alan Johnson failed to allay their fears about professional independence. This follows the resignations of Les King and Marion Walker last week. This threatens to further drive the wedge of mistrust between scientists and politicians. The three have been named in the Times as Simon Campbell, John Marsden and Ian Ragan. Dr Nutt still stands on the sidelines fanning the flames of discontent.
The ACMD was set up under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971and its advisers are unpaid (other than travel expenses). There are several posts that are required by law, which are affected by these resignations.
The scientists want to be professional and just tell what they see as the truth. Politicians believe that it is their job to take the message to the country. The scientists should be seen as the experts in their field so their advice should be taken very seriously indeed. But politicians have to take the wishes of the people (voters) into account so bear the responsibility for the decisions they take. That is why the Government, in the form of the Home Secretary, is required to ‘consult’ with the ACMD, not to slavishly follow their guidance. Without this rider the scientists become our rulers and we would be at the whim of the scientific though for the day.
What seems to have happened here though is a more than acceptable gap between scientific advice and government action. Maybe what this sorry state of affairs is telling us is that there is not just a disconnect between politicians and scientists, but maybe more alarmingly between the general public and scientists. Does this mean that the politicians doubt the intelligence or capability of the population to take in the full scientific evidence that could eventually mean turning our perception of alcohol and tobacco on its head?
If that is so, what does this also say about science education standards in this country?