Tuesday, 3 November 2009

How to have your Nutt roasted

Following the subject of yesterday’s post is the continuing story of the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, sacking Professor David Nutt from the Government’s Advisory Panel on the Misuse of Drugs, of which Nutt was chairman. The spat has polarised around Nutt’s rights (‘freedom of speech’) to continue to speak out against the Government’s drugs policy, especially upgrading cannabis (it had earlier been downgraded by Caroline Flint, another government minister), after the then Home Secretary had rejected Nutt’s advice. Nutt had gone on to publish his views that tobacco and alcohol – and even horse-riding – are more dangerous than many drugs, including ecstacy, LSD and cannabis.

There are several issues here, including whether it is reasonable to require the scientific panel to ‘support’ the government. But a question facing dissenters (in any organisation) is how, when and where you go about voicing it. Is it a responsible dissenter’s place, indeed duty, to voice criticism vigorously but only up to the point when a decision is taken? Should the criticism be voiced in a formal but private setting with colleagues present, but not shared publicly in the national press? Is it acceptable and possible to continue to express one’s viewpoint without at the same time saying that one’s employers/masters are stupid for disagreeing? Is the argument more about method and style than constitution?