Second Cross-Party Science Policy Debate Manages to Please and Displease

The hosts of the January 13 cross-party science policy debate in the U.K., the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), are the source for video and some reactions on blogs and in the press.  While these events are a better set-up and discussion than what the crazy idealists over at ScienceDebate 2008 wanted, the blog reactions suggest that even a couple of 90 minute debates involving the head science ministers in the three major British political parties don’t get to the level of detail that the scientists want.  Arguably this is a nice problem to have, since I think similar events in the U.S. would devolve quickly into talking point exchanges over stem cell research and evolution and manage to avoid any meaningful questions or content.  We’ll see if anything changes come the third debate, scheduled for March 16 at the House of Commons.  So it seems people are happy that the debates are happening, but not so crazy about the broad, but shallow coverage of the issues.  Maybe if they watch more political debates, they can figure out this is par for the course.

It seems as though the three parties, not unlike the two parties in the U.S., manage to agree on most scientific issues discussed (putting aside the hot-button issues I mentioned in the first paragraph, which didn’t come up in the U.K. debates, and are really issues involving philosophical and religious differences in the U.S.).  This appears to have caused some to comment that the debates are not terribly lively or exciting.  Personally, political debates should be informative first, and entertaining dead freaking last.  (This probably explains my antipathy for most networks that claim to cover news 24 hours a day.)  Apparently the closest participant to a loser in the debate was Tory shadow science minister Afriyie, who responded to a question by sort-of, but not really, supporting Professor Nutt’s sacking.  Afriyie’s response was the focus of the mainstream press coverage I saw, which tends to make the debate a lose-lose proposition, since more substantive issues about science funding get ignored as a result.

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Nutt’s Drug Groups Meets; Overshadows Appointment of Replacement

The Independent Council on Drug Harms, Professor David Nutt’s attempt to insert himself back into drug policymaking, met this past Thursday.  It is supported by the Centre for Crime and Justice Statistics, which is where Nutt gave the lecture that apparently was the straw that broke Home Secretary Johnson’s back, and according to a BBC correspondent, another benefactor (identified by the Times as hedge fund manager Toby Johnson)  Clearly the independent in the council’s name is only accurate with respect to independence from the government.

In related news, the new head of Nutt’s former group, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), was appointed on Wednesday.  Professor Les Iverson specializes in pharmacology.  Since the notice of Nutt’s meeting had been out for a bit, this could have been an effort by the Home Office to deflect attention from that meeting, but I don’t think it had that effect.  Iverson has said he welcomes the new committee, and anticipates inviting Nutt to give advice to the ACMD.

Nutt continues to make some strong claims that deserve scrutiny as his group moves forward.  From the Times:

“What this committee will do is provide to you the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political influence. This is a really interesting model: bottom-up science, saying we’d like to work as a scientific community to produce quality, independent, politically free, uninfluenced science. I would hope other scientific advisory groups in the Government would end up being like us.”

Hopefully your cognitive dissonance is twitching.

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