Archive for the ‘science politics’ Category

More Jenkins Junk

July 7, 2010

In which Dr Aust ponders whether Simon Jenkins makes it up as he goes along

The other day I was listening to Simon Jenkins on the weekly Guardian science podcast, discussing his latest predictable tirade against the scientists, and the “Spoofjenks” reaction to it (my own little contribution is below/here).

In the podcast conversation with the Guardian’s Alok Jha (it starts at about 22 min 45 sec in, and goes on until 31:15 or so), Jenkins seemed to be backtracking somewhat on his latest article. As I heard it he was arguing that:

(i) what he had said was all very mild;

(ii) all he really wanted to say was that science could not expect to be shielded from the UK public sector cuts;

(iii) scientists “don’t know how to ask for money properly” (by which I think he means they overstate the importance, and likely benefit, of their work)

Hmm.

I don’t buy it, really.

First, I’m not sure that calling the President of the Royal Society (or things that the latter had said) “shameless” and “two-faced” is all that mild. And Jenkins’ central point (as he tells it) that he was merely commenting on scientists wanting to be protected from the public sector cuts seems rather disingenuous, given the well-worn nature of Jenkins’ theme (“pointy-headed scientific experts and why I distrust them”, if I may shorthand it that way)

Anyway, there were a couple of stand-out moments in the conversation (at least for me).

One was when Alok Jha offered, as an illustration of the way in which science projects can yield unexpected benefits, the example of CERN and the World Wide Web. Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee was a contractor at CERN, and later a Fellow, when he came up with the ideas that launched the WWW. Now, this is not a justification of CERN, but it certainly is an illustration of what most scientists believe, namely that you can’t really predict with any accuracy where key advances will come from.

As far as I could tell, Jenkins’ response to this was to say that he doesn’t believe it. He did, to be fair,  say some slightly less stupid things too. One was to suggest that the internet was an outgrowth of defence research. There is a fair amount of truth in this, as networking computers in remote locations together was certainly driven forward by projects like ARPANET. This later morphed into network projects involving Univerities and scientific institutions, like the BITNET system I was using to send e-mail in the late 80s and early 90s.

Jenkins’ other gambit was to say:

“Well, if the CERN people hadn’t done it, someone else would have”.

This latter is, of course, likely true of all human discoveries; but to offer that as a reason not to fund science and scientists strikes me as spectacularly stupid. Someone has to discover things. It hardly seems desperately controversial (not to me, anyway) to say that having some of your brightest people work at being “professional discoverers” is a good way to do it. What hard evidence there is available seems to bear this out.

It is also, I think, a good idea to have your professional discoverers work in a system where they talk to one another and disseminate, by publishing, what they have found, so that anyone else can make use of it. Many a human discovery has been made, and then lost or forgotten, and then had to be re-discovered. The scientific literature system now makes this a bit less likely.

What really struck me about this exchange was that Jenkins clearly didn’t know the slightest thing about what Berners-Lee had actually done, or even (slightly more surprising to me) the difference between the earlier computer networks and the WWW. Apart from Berners-Lee’s role being rather well known, anyone – e.g. anyone who writes recurring columns denouncing scientists for being a bunch of smug parasites – can go and read about it on Wikipedia under “History of the Internet”

Come back Homer Simpson – we need you as a well-paid columnist

However, the real “D’oh!” moment came when Jenkins started talking about what he saw as research that justified its costs, and research that didn’t. He contrasted research into Alzheimer’s Disease (which he said he thought led to real tangible advances in understanding the brain) with research into cancer, which he seemed to regard as a bottomless pit into which money was poured for no results.

Rather odd, I thought.

Because research into Alzheimer’s has, as yet, had little impact on the actual disease. That’s little as in “essentially none”. As Wikipedia puts it:

“There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease; available treatments offer relatively small symptomatic benefit but remain palliative in nature.”

We do know a vast amount more about the underlying pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s, and the biology of Amyloid Precursor Protein, then we did a dozen years ago. But so far this greater knowledge has yielded no noticeable improvements in therapy. The cholinesterase inhibitor drugs that are on the market to treat Alzheimer’s are widely regarded as pretty useless, or close to it (pace Terry Pratchett), the experimental drug therapies have so far been a disappointment, and a commenter at the Guardian podcast page made the Pharma in-joke that:

“Alzheimer’s research has been such a failure that Pharma companies are actually cooperating with each other to try to make progress”

Now, personally I wouldn’t call the research a failure, exactly; as I said, we now know much more, but treatment breakthroughs have not been forthcoming. The same is true for Cystic Fibrosis, for instance. It is also true of Huntington’s Disease and many other neurological and neurodegenerative conditions.

Anyway, the sad reality is that we can do little currently in terms of preventing or slowing Alzheimer’s, and we certainly cannot cure it. The best advice seems to be to take a daily brisk walk, watch your blood pressure and lipid profile, and play chess or Sudoku to keep your brain active.

In contrast, if we talk about cancer, Jenkins’ other example, things are a bit different. You could have a look, for instance, at this.

Or this.

Now, this improvement in cancer survival rates may not be mostly the result of what you think of as lab-based basic research. It may be more about painstaking clinical research to optimize drug regimes, or to refine procedures for surgery or bone-marrow transplant. It may be to do with better diagnostic techniques, like MRI and CT scanning, that allow earlier diagnosis and treatment and hence better outcomes. But of course, all those processes stand on the shoulders of basic research at some stage – and typically at multiple stages.

More importantly for the current discussion, the statistics – the real numbers – show that there are incremental year-on-year improvements in cancer survival. And if you cast the timescale back further, the gains are even more apparent, as you can see for childhood cancer here, from where I took this Figure:

UK survival stats for childhood cancer

Five year survival statistics for children diagnosed with the indicated cancers in the years 1962   to 1996.

So contrast:

Alzheimer’s – no improvement in treatment.

Cancer – year on year improvements. Slow but steady.

But Jenkins likes the first, where he thinks he sees recognisable benefits of research, and not the second.

Now, one can make a more complex argument about “value for the amount of money spent”, of course, and there is certainly a lot more money devoted to cancer research than to dementia research. But still, Jenkins’ comments seem completely… well… uninformed.

[Update: 12th July – Cancer Research UK have just released new figures showing that long term survival after a number of hitherto very deadly cancers has doubled since the 70s. Of course there are still some cancers where survival has not improved, like pancreatic cancer. But I doubt anyone would believe that less research is going to make that better. The figures are here.]

So  – what would you conclude from Jenkins’ use of these examples?

Well, I am left concluding that what he thinks matters is whether scientists talk in terms that “speak”, personally, to Simon Jenkins. Or, one could say, terms which speak to his prejudices.

And I am also left concluding that he pretty much makes this stuff up as he goes along.

(Not his basic boilerplate article railing against science, of course – he seems to recycle that one with gusto. Indeed, if I were really going to spoof him with conviction I guess I should reprint my piece from last week every six weeks or so, with only minor cosmetic alterations).

Be afraid – be very afraid…

Now this “making it up as you go along” is, of course, a long-standing tradition in Britain, both in certain social circles and in comment journalism. So perhaps we should expect nothing else.

The nagging worry is that there might be some people out there who take Jenkins’ views on science, and scientists, seriously. Just last week I heard one worried senior scientist refer not just to Jenkins’ article, but to Jenkins “influential readership”.

The obvious implication was that politicians, top mandarins, the media and other members of the Great and the Good, are where one finds Jenkins’ readers.

And in an era when the Tories have just put an Evangelical Christian with a tendency to invent her own statistics and facts, and a man who believes astrology can help surgeons get better operating results, onto the House of Commons Health Select Committee… …that thought really does worry me.

It worries me quite a bit.

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Catholicism plus writing in the Telegraph apparently makes you barking mad

April 19, 2010

The Catholic church has not been having a good time of late.

There is the global furore over the long-standing problem of child abuse and sexual molestation of children by priests and by members of lay Catholic educational organisations.

Then there is the growing clamour about the inability of the Church hierarchy, right up to the Pope, to see that their prioritising of the church’s image and “public propriety” over abused children’s well-being and rights is viewed by most people as utterly abhorrent.

Then there is the phenomenon that part of this inability to grasp the issue periodically manifests as Catholic Church grandees lashing out with ludicrous “Epic Fail” comparisons, likening the ire directed at them to the persecution of the Jews (see here) or alternatively constructing ridiculous conspiracy theories.

And some of the UK papers have been having fun reporting the story that some atheists might try and stage a “Citizen’s Arrest” of the Pope when he visits the UK  (exploding volcanoes and others “Acts of God” permitting) later this year (see discussion at Heresy Corner).

In among all this ongoing meltdown, the Catholic Church clearly has bigger fish to fry than the UK general election. However. religious, and more specifically Catholic, prejudice has now raised its head in the campaign with a bizarre and spiteful attack by Daily Telegraph columnist, and prominent lay Catholic, Cristina Odone on Dr Evan Harris MP.

Odone’s article can be found here. Do read it quickly if you are interested, as I rather wonder how long it will stay up. It also has a marvellous comments thread testifying to many people’s evident disgust at Odone’s labelling of Harris as “Dr Death”. Some readers may remember that this was the sobriquet directed at Harris by the People’s Medical Journal Daily Mail during the debate over the Abortion time limit a couple of years ago (coverage on this blog can be found here and here).

Harris’ response to Odone can be found in the Telegraph comments. It is calm and reasoned (and just a bit puzzled) and is well worth a read. However, I think the single best response (and certainly the funniest) is the one by the Skepchick, aka Rebecca Watson:

“Thanks for the heads up, Cristina! Now I know to cheer for the LibDems. I want to know that if I end up in a vegetative state, I’m given a peaceful death rather than my own Telegraph column.”

Stop Press: Simon Singh wins Appeal Court ruling on meaning

April 1, 2010

Wonderful news from the Court of Appeal this morning.

Simon Singh has won his “appeal on meaning”. He will now be allowed to argue, in defence of the libel claim brought against him personally by the British Chiropractic Association, that his remarks were “fair comment”.

Jack of Kent’s Twitter feed is the go-to source for the details. He has given a few selected lines from the judgement, which I will repeat here:

“[Singh’s phrase] “not a jot of evidence”…[is] a statement of opinion, and one backed by reasons”

And:

“[the word] “bogus”…[is] more emphatic than assertive”

– referring, of course, to the much debated b-word;

“Once..”jot” [is perceived]..as a value judgment…[the use of the word] “happily” loses its sting…[giving it a meaning approximating] blithely”

(recall that the main phrase the BCA and Eady J found libellous in Singh’s article was:  “The BCA… happily… promotes bogus treatments”)

The Appeal Justices also commented that the BCA’s bringing and pursuit of the case gave the

“Unhappy impression… [of an] endeavour by BCA to silence one of its critics”

Which, of course, has been the opinion of pretty much everyone, excepting chiropractors and a few other alternative medicine types, right from Day One.

And which, since we are back to talking about “Fair Comment”, gives me an excuse to plug my first extended dissertation on the case, written way back in August 2008.

Back in the Bunker, meanwhile, it appears that the BCA are now considering whether to attempt to appeal today’s ruling on meaning, according to a statement they have issued.

Anyway, we are promised the full ruling on Jack of Kent’s website ASAP.  Since Jack tells us it quotes Milton and George Orwell, I am rather looking forward to it. (Since I started writing this, Index on Censorship have uploaded the PDF version of the whole judgement).

[Update: the full ruling is now online in a more easily readable form here. It is well worth a read. The Justices are clearly men of classical education, as apart from Orwell and Milton, Galileo gets a mention. This is particularly apt as it is a regular gambit of Alt Medicine types to liken themselves to Galileo, a tactic which has been termed “The Galileo Gambit” – see also here.]

One of the final paragraphs of the judgement, paragraph 34, bears specifically on the question of scientific issues in the courts, and is worth re-typing in full:

——————————————————————————-

34. We would respecfully adopt what Judge Easterbrook, now Chief Judge of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, said in a libel action over a scientific controversy. Underwager v Salter 22 Fed 3d 730 (1994):

“Plaintiffs cannot, by simply filing suit and crying “character assassination!”, silence those who hold divergent views, no matter how adverse those views may be to plaintiffs’ interests. Scientific controversies must be settled by the methods of science rather than by the methods of litigation. …More papers, more discussion, better data and more satisfactory models – not larger awards of damages – mark the path towards superior understanding of the world around us”


——————————————————————————————————

…And I certainly can’t think of many (any?) scientists who would disagree with that.

————————————————

APPENDIX: SELF-PUBLICIST CORNER

Since no self-respecting blogger misses a chance of a bit of “Self-Biggin'”, here are links to the full collection of my coverage of the Singh case, right from the beginning:

Back Quack crack attack – it’ s a legal matter baby – detailed amateur legal analysis from August 2008, plus some musing on libel tourism.

It’s Quiet – too quiet – an end-of-2008 round up, wondering what had become of the case and discussing Singh’s proposed defence and the nature of CAM belief.

Truly Much Bogosity – some thoughts on the Eady ruling on meaning of May last year, the much-debated word “bogus”, and the chilling effect of English Libel Law.

Back Crack Quack Attack – the song – sadly as yet unrecorded, though it did gain me the scorn of a rather serious person styling themself “Cochrane Reviewer” over at Science Punk.

BCA say they want scientific debate – bears eschew woods for proper flush toilets and soft toilet paper – Dr Aust’s lower mandible almost dislocates under the jaw-dropping effect of a startling BCA press release in June 2009.

Stop Press – Simon Singh granted leave to appeal Oct 14th 2009 – Dr Aust enjoys the excellent news – with various updates through the day.

BCA v Singh – (unexploded?) literary devices – Dr Aust muses whether Simon Singh might have simply got his paragraphs the wrong way round.  “You stand accused, Mr Singh, of the Reckless and Dangerous Use of Rhetorical Devices– also from last October.

Chiropraktischer Untergang – updated with added Sturm und Drang – A bit of pre-Christmas fun. Dr Aust has a good laugh as someone does the inevitable chiropractic Downfall parody.

Kneed in the Nutts – or shot in the foot?

November 8, 2009

In which Dr Aust has a think about risk, and wishes politicians would stop trying to have it both ways.

The big science story in the UK these past couple of week has been the sacking of Professor David Nutt, the Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). The blogosphere has been aflame with commentary. My favourite comment so far, which most readers here will probably have read already, is David Colquhoun’s brilliantly pithy summing up over at the BMJ:

“Remember George W Bush? For him it was simple. If a scientist told him an inconvenient truth, the messenger was fired, and someone more compliant got the job. In every area from global warming to the existence of weapons of mass destruction he chose to base policy on fantasy and wishful thinking. It seems that the UK home secretary, Alan Johnson, has something in common with Bush. When the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said something he didn’t like, its chairman, David Nutt, got fired….”

British Medical Journal online

Alan Johnson and other members of the Government, notably including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have tried to spin the story as Prof Nutt “stepping into the political arena”. Governments, they argue, have to consider things “in the round”, in Gordon Brown’s phrase (i.e. there is more to it than just the evidence the scientists have sifted, assessed, and synthesised).

Alan Johnson put it like this:

“As for [Prof Nutt’s] comments about horse riding being more dangerous than ecstasy… it is of course a political rather than a scientific point. There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction.”

Now, the assertion that this statistical comparison is “a political rather than a scientific point” is a rather politician-ly piece of rhetoric. First off, the comparison he is referring to was published in an article in a scientific journal. It was only when the newspapers got hold of it, and that it then came to the attention of politicians, that it caused such a furore, with both sides of the House of Commons getting on their hind legs to compete to see who could denounce the “nutty Professor”, and the evils of drug use, in more ringing terms.

One of my favourite medical bloggers, the ruminative and understated hospital consultant Dr Grumble, has also been covering the story. He does not agree with Johnson, and points out that analogies for risks are actually an important way of communicating risk.

“[Alan Johnson] claims, it seems, to have sacked Professor Nutt because he compared the risk of drugs with the risk of riding a horse. He says this is ‘of course’ a political point. Dr Grumble doesn’t agree. Even as a scientist you need a yardstick rather than a figure to put risk on a scale which can be understood. This is particularly true if you need to express levels of risk to politicians or the public. But the concept is useful for scientists too. In the assessment of risk this is not unusual. It was not something that was calculated to embarrass Alan Johnson. It was just an aid to understanding.

Professor Nutt chose horse riding because it happens to be very risky. Dr Grumble knew this. He has seen the consequences. Yet many parents – though maybe not in Alan Johnson’s constituency – might encourage their children to take up horse riding. Few would do the same when it came to drugs. Yet the risk for horse riding is much greater. Both are probably done for some sort of excitement. One is a fulfilling activity the other probably is not. It doesn’t matter. It is just a yardstick.

We need such yardsticks. Parents need to grasp how likely it is for their child to be murdered in comparison to being run over on the road. It’s important. Do we need to invest in looking out for child murderers or slowing the traffic? Those are the issues.

The trouble, of course (!) is the Daily Mail. It is more likely to fill its pages with stories of horrific child murders than car accidents. The Mail is unlikely to report many of the deaths related to alcohol and tobacco. There are just too many. The differential reporting of drug-related deaths in the press is something that David Nutt has pointed out. The likelihood of the press reporting a drug-related death depends on the drug. Some drugs, it seems, are more newsworthy than others. But the consequence is that the public’s perception of risk is warped. It is important to point this out. The public needs to grasp the real risk and not the risk they perceive from reading newspapers. So do politicians.”

Does Alan Johnson keep a gun?

Indeed. Back in Mrs Dr Aust’s days in anaesthesia, the number one question she used to get asked by patients when she met them on the morning of their operation was:

“Am I going to wake up from this doc? Is it dangerous, this anaesthetic?”

Let’s assume the patient was a physically fit person having a routine and fairly brief anaesthetic for an uncomplicated minor surgical procedure. In such cases, one of her preferred replies was:

“Well, if you came here this morning in a car, then you’ve already got away with doing something more dangerous than the anaesthetic I’m going to be giving you.”

She did not quote a numerical risk figure, because the chance that an anxious patient would have taken in a “one in however many thousand” risk figure, and then processed it cognitively, and actually felt reassured, was basically nil.

The analogy, however, with it’s element of risk comparison, did the job nicely.

So I don’t think Johnson’s points about Nutt’s analogy stand up. As Dr Grumble alludes to, the point Nutt was really making was that people have views of the risks associated with different activities – and especially the use of different drugs – which bear no relation to the real risks, and that this is unhelpful in making sensible policy.

Professors, politicians and the real world – just who is out of touch?

Which in turn suggest another of the implications directed at Nutt by Johnson and others in the political arena is incorrect; the idea that Nutt and other “ivory tower academics” do not understand that real world decisions – like those taken by politicians – have to factor in things other than simply the scientific case.

This idea, that there is more to political decisions than simply the facts, reminds me of a famous story about “risk perception”. The version that I know appears in Michael O’Donnell’s book Medicine’s Strangest Cases, and concerns the Swedes and the Lapland satellite evacuation.

The story was that a satellite in a decaying orbit was predicted to crash-land in an remote area of Lapland that was virtually unpopulated save for a few nomadic reindeer-herders. The Swedish Govt. offered to helicopter airlift the reindeer herders out of the area, at significant cost to the Swedish taxpayer.

Hermann Bondi, a famous British mathematician and – funnily enough – Government science adviser, who heard the story, crunched the numbers and confirmed that the probability of any reindeer herder who stayed put having the satellite land on them was several orders of magnitude less than the chance they would be killed in a helicopter crash on a routine helicopter flight.

So the Swedish Govt’s decision was daft.

Well, that depends.

Purely on the statistics, it was a wholly illogical decision. But Bondi pointed out that the Swedish Govt had undoubtedly factored in that if they didn’t offer to evacuate people, and the satellite then landed on someone and killed them, then the headlines would scream

“Heartless and negligent Govt leaves reindeer herders to die”.

While if the chopper crashed, the headline would be

“Tragic helicopter crash kills herders”

– and the Govt. would be off the hook.

So Governments weigh more than just the basic facts. But is Professor Nutt really out of touch with these realities of decision-making in Government when it comes to drug policy, as the politicians have implied?

Well, some idea of the Prof’s thinking can be gleaned from the published version of his recent lecture. This is, in fact, precisely the lecture, delivered to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London, that caused the recent flare-up that led to Nutt’s sacking. The full version of the lecture can be read here.

Here is an extract:

Drug policy

Formulating policy in relation to drugs is obviously
quite a difficult thing to do. I comment on it, as I
always have, from the perspective of a psychiatrist
who is interested in drugs and drugs and the brain.
In many ways, that’s how the Advisory Council on
the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) covers it. We have a
range of expertise on the Council; we’re very strong
in terms of chemistry and pharmacology, and
psychology; and we have a definite knowledge,
interest and responsibility to look at social harms as
well. We provide one arm of the policy formulating
perspective. In addition, there are a number of other
agencies, organisations and individuals who
contribute to policy formation…

There are also international partners – we
have signed up to international treaties – which
determine that, in essence, the UK follows United
Nations policy on drugs. This can be quite a tough
constraining influence on how countries regulate
drugs…

Then, of course, there are other factors feeding into
political decisions about drugs: what the general
public thinks (or is thought to think); and then there’s
the media….

(colour added for emphasis)

The full article is well worth a read. It is one of the more accessible and intelligent explorations of the issues in drug policy that I have read, and certainly far more informative than anything you will read in even the broadsheet newspapers in the UK. The main theme explored is whether drug classification, and the attendant penalties for illegal use, should be linked to the actual harm caused by use of the drug, and the ways this harm can be assessed. What comes across in it is that Nutt is in no way “naive” about the political process that goes into the decisions of drug classification. What he largely argues for is more sophisticated approaches to educating the public about the relative riskiness of different activities, both legal and illegal.

Advisers and “advisers”

What about the final argument – that politicians should have advisers that speak only in private, and who in public never disagree with the Government line?

Are politicians entitled to expect advisers to keep quiet?

The answer, I would say, is that it depends on the type of adviser. There are advisers, and advisers.

Most relevantly, some advisers are civil servants, paid by the public purse, including some “personal” advisers.

Others, like Prof Nutt, are independent experts.

Much of the discussion on the Nutt case in the newspapers and in parliament has failed to make this distinction clear. And as David Colquhoun, among others, has noted, Alan Johnson has led the way in promoting this confusion.

One correspondent at Dr Grumble’s blog defended Alan Johnson in terms rather similar to those Johnson himself used :

“Prof Nutt was asked to leave because he crossed the boundary between advising the government AND making views against goverment policy public”

Compare Alan Johnson, quoted in the Guardian:

“[Professor Nutt] was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy. This principle is well understood and long established.”

I was moved to pen something in response, which I will re-post here from Dr Grumble’s blog:

“Nutt is not a Government adviser in the usual sense that an “adviser” is a paid employee, like the Chief Scientific Adviser and other civil servants. Nutt is an academic, paid nothing, and appointed to a statutory body whose job (clearly set out in their terms of reference) is to tell the Govt what the scientific evidence actually says. Not what the government wants to hear. Read David Colquhoun’s spot-on summary in the BMJ.

Alan Johnson sacked Nutt for what he said in an academic lecture whose content was not overtly critical of Govt. Furthermore, since giving the lecture was part of Nutt’s day job (the one he is actually paid to do), what he says in it is in no way part of the Govt’s purview. It is his considered opinion as an expert.

The anomaly is that Johnson is able to sack Nutt from this post. The body should be wholly independent, with the Chair appointed from within the Committee.

If Johnson were then to want to hire a “private office” drug policy adviser who was an “on message” paid yes man, so be it. At least that would be the politicians being honest about what they really wanted.

However, said hypothetical person, if what they advised was contrary to all the expert opinion, might have rather little credibility out in the world of drug policy – a bit like the way Lord Adonis was regarded by virtually all in education when he ran education policy from his role as Tony Blair’s “Education Special Adviser.”

The problem is that the politicians want to be able to say “We are acting directly in accordance with the evidence and expert opinion” precisely when they aren’t. You can hardly blame the independent experts for pointing out when the politicians engage in this kind of routine (for a politician) but rather blatant dishonesty.”

And, in the final analysis, that is what really disappoints me. I have hitherto had a fair amount of respect for Alan Johnson, one of the sadly rare MPs who have any experience of the world beyond the circumscribed horizons of the British political class. He always struck me as fairly unprententious, and not a hypocrite.

Until now.

Because that is what it is – hypocrisy. Which came from both sides of the House of Commons, with the cant, windbaggery, and general posturing for the cameras and the Daily Mail broken only by the pertinent words of the “MP for Science and Evidence”, Dr Evan Harris:

“With every personal attack on David Nutt, and every piece of cod science [Alan Johnson has] produced, the home secretary deepens the crisis of mistrust between scientists and the government.”

Quite.

Experts, including scientists, can cope with politicians disregarding what they say – partly because it is par for the course.

Disregarding what the experts say, AND telling them they are obligated not to point out that this is what the Government has done – all while the politicians insist smugly that they have “evidence based policies” – is something else.