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Scientists flee Home Office after adviser sacking

Nutt up or shut up

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The Home Office faces mass resignations by its consulting scientists after its clumsy gagging attempt on top drug adviser David Nutt.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked Nutt on Friday apparently for disagreeing with government policy, which has effectively ignored the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which Professor Nutt chaired.

Two members of the council - Marion Walker and Dr Les King, formerly head of the Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Forensic Science Service - have already quit. King told the BBC that Nutt was being denied freedom of expression.

He said the affair brought into question why experts should continue to give advice which was "completely ignored". He said there was a risk the council would effectively collapse.

The affair has raised the issue of government arrogance in how it treats its scientific advisers and refuses to follow evidence-based policy.

Nutt's comment that horse riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy was rejected by Johnson as a "political rather than a scientific point".

In its original report the ACMD found that horse riding caused acute harm to a person once in 350 episodes while ecstasy caused acute harm once in 10,000 episodes - which sounds to us like maths, not politics.

Jacqui Smith opted to ignore the committee's findings on ecstasy earlier this year. She also listened carefully to the committee's views on the classification of cannabis, and acted accordingly.

The Home Office said Nutt's comments undermined the role of the council and its scientific independence.

The statement said: "We fully support the work of the ACMD and remain committed to considering the independent advice and evidence it and other advisory bodies provide to the Government. However the clear role of the chair of the ACMD is to provide independent scientific advice and not to lobby for changes in policy."®

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