by In Wales
Mon Dec 6th, 2010 at 10:27:46 AM EST
Articles like this one always worry me...
Ministers will not be required to seek the advice of scientists when making drug classification policy in future, under new government proposals.
The police reform and social responsibility bill, published last week, contains an amendment to the constitution of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) that would remove the requirement on the home secretary to appoint at least six scientists to the committee.
A further amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 would allow the home secretary to place temporary controls on substances for a year by statutory instrument.
See more in today's Guardian. The article itself is fairly straightforward, highlighting how the proposals effectively do away with the ACMD, rather than looking to reform it to iron out the current problems. I'm feeling a sense of deja vu here, it isn't the first committee/body to be scrapped rather than have it's remit reviewed or redefined and action taken to sort out the issues. Far be it for me to accuse the Government of throwing the baby out with the bathwater though.
Classification of drugs invariably turns into a highly emotive issue with right wing tabloids shrieking about moral decline,stirring up a moral panic of people demanding that it's time the Government took a stand... we end up with ideologically driven policies, that don't have evidence to back them up. The requirement is being removed to allow 'greater flexibility' to consult more widely to draw in other expertise, to me that speaks of picking the evidence that supports the ideology or choosing scientists that are willing to put a particular spin on their findings (they do exist, read Bad Science).
It also sets a dangerous precendent. If it is ok to cherry pick scientific advice on drugs classification, it becomes ok to cherry pick in other policy areas. That is a real cause for concern when we are looking at areas that many MPs and lobbying groups will lack a detailed understanding of. We need more MPs with scientific backgrounds to start with, but we also need robustly independent scientific advisors who will work and advise with integrity to inform evidence based policy making.
Science isn't black and white, methodology can be tweaked to bias findings, results can be spun to fit a preferred hypothesis, and picking evidence to support potentially dangerous prejudices to fit ideology is something we need to guard against, not legislate for.