First, Kill All the Scientists

What should a government do if science shows that it’s policies are misguided? Why, fire the scientists of course!

Professor Nutt was the British government’s chief advisor on the harm caused by illegal drugs and he wrote a paper showing that the official ranking of the harm caused by various drugs – class A, class B or class C – is out of alignment with the actual harm caused by them.

The prof’s team rated drugs according to a bunch of factors relating to the harm they cause ranked them in this table. (The official ratings – which determine the severity of punishments for possession and distribution – are in parentheses).

1. Heroin (Class A)

2. Cocaine (Class A)

3. Barbiturates (Class B)

4. Street methadone (Class A)

5. Alcohol (Not controlled)

6. Ketamine (Class C)

7. Benzodiazepine (Class B)

8. Amphetamine (Class B)

9. Tobacco (No class)

10. Bupranorphine (Class C)

11. Cannabis (Class B)

12. Solvents (Not controlled)

13. 4-MTA (Class A)

14. LSD (Class A)

15. Methylphenidate (Class B)

16. Anabolic steroids (Class C)

17. GHB (Class C)

18. Ecstasy (Class A)

19. Alkylnitrates (Not controlled)

20. Khat (Not controlled)

He got fired and now many of the other scientists on his team are resigning in protest.

Read his speech. It’s very readable and quite fascinating. It covers a range of ideas like the fallacy of the precaution principle

To repeat what the former Home Secretary said, ‘We must err on the side of caution and protect the public.’

and gives some famous examples of where precaution resulted in additional harm.

The most interesting bit was the study of how the media distorts the reporting of drug deaths. This table shows the number of deaths in Scotland resulting from drug misuse over a period during the 90s.


Drug Toxicological statistics (n) Newspaper reports (n) Toxicology to newspaper ratio
All cases 2255 546 4:1
Asprin/Salicylate 12
Paracetamol 265 1 265:1
Diazepam 481 10 48:1
Morphine 431 6 72:1
Amphetamines 36 13 3:1
Cocaine 30 4 8:1
Heroin 42 75 5:1
Ecstasy/MDMA 28 26 1:1

Check out the number of deaths from cannabis…exactly.

Professor Nutt must have known that he would be fired for this speech – which makes it all the more admirable that he gave it.

Well done, prof.

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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