David Nutt's controversial lecture conformed to government guidelines
An interesting development in the row over the sacking of Professor David Nutt as the government's chief drugs adviser has emerged this afternoon. It appears that the lecture that provoked Alan Johnson to dismiss him (and the pamphlet in which it was subsequently published) conformed to the Government's own code of practice for scientific advisers. The Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, as revised in 2007, sets out the ground rules for members and chairs. It states that committee rules should not normally preclude advisers from speaking out about their areas of expertise, so long as they do so in their personal capacity, and do not claim to be representing their panels. The key section is paragraph 106:“Rules of conduct need not affect a member’s freedom to represent his or her field of expertise in a personal capacity. The committee's rules however should generally oblige members to make clear when they are not speaking in their capacity as committee members."The comments from Professor Nutt that angered Mr Johnson were made in July in the Eve Saville lecture at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College, London, which was published as a pamphlet last week. And Richard Garside, the centre's director, has today written to the Home Secretary to point out that both the lecture and the pamphlet made it perfectly clear that Professor Nutt was speaking in his capacity as Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, not as chairman of the ACMD. Garside writes:
"I have to conclude that the public confusion between Professor Nutt’s academic role and his chairmanship of the ACMD has been sowed by the Home Office, not by Professor Nutt nor by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies."The full letter follows after the jump.
Dear Home Secretary,Mark Henderson
I am writing to you about your decision to dismiss Professor David Nutt as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
It was the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies that asked Professor Nutt to present his analysis at a lecture at King’s College London in July of this year. Following the lecture Professor Nutt agreed to our publishing an edited version, which we did last Thursday. A copy of this publication, along with the press release, can be accessed on our website here.
The publicity material for the lecture can be viewed on our website here.
In your letter to Professor Nutt advising him that you were dismissing him from his role, you wrote that his contribution went ‘against the requirements on general standards of public life’ required by his position as chair of the ACMD. You went on to write:‘As chair of the ACMD you cannot avoid appearing to implicate the Council in your comments and thereby undermining its scientific independence’.I would like to make it clear that Professor Nutt gave his lecture, and agreed to its subsequent publication, in his capacity as the Edmond J Safra Chair of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. This is stated clearly in the original publicity and in the subsequent paper. Professor Nutt made some references to the ACMD in his paper as it was relevant to his argument. At no point did he make reference to his role as chair of the ACMD, nor did he give the impression that he was speaking on behalf of the ACMD.
I have to conclude that the public confusion between Professor Nutt’s academic role and his chairmanship of the ACMD has been sowed by the Home Office, not by Professor Nutt nor by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
Academics who advise government should feel confident that they retain the freedom to act as independent researchers without the threat of political interference or undue pressure of any kind. It is in the public interest that you clarify your thinking on this matter and I look forward to receiving your response.
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
November 2, 2009