Monday, 2 November 2009

Professor David Nutt Confuses Facts and Judgements

There might of course be a hidden agenda larger than the issue of making statement based on scientfic facts in the case of the removal Professor David Nutt.

As a natural scientist and an academic it will have been important to him to air information in a spirit of free speech in the hope that his learned reputation as an objective researcher entitled him to a point of view that would be believed.

This might be regarded as politically naive or very astute. A scientist will operate on the assumption that there is a difference between facts and beliefs. It is clear that Professor Nutt believes that the facts should be allowed to speak for themselves and that social factors do not apply. In making a case for 'the facts' he is emphasising his belief that Politicans approach truth in a pragmatic rather than objective way.

The fact is politics is about social judgement. It is about pragmatic truth not objective truth. The scientific facts about the impact of drugs are different from the socially believed impacts. Further more the scientific 'facts' about social impacts depend on assumptions about the 'metrics' that are deemed valid. If the £Sd of medical and policing impacts are the only measure then perhaps he has a point, if other less objective factors are considered then perhaps he doesn't. How do you measure the social consequences and impacts of leniency in this case? How do you know the very long term effects in individual cases? What are the philosophical assumptions of his position?

So what was Professor Nutt's real agenda?


  1. Well said rr! I usually would always prefer a scientist to a politician but my heart sank when I heard Professor Nutt, or one of his colleagues suggesting that 'ordinary' people should accept anything uttered by a scientist as a credo, just because a scientist has given it as a considered opinion. It's arrogance, plain and simple, and I think it does the scientific community no favours. Professor Nutt genuinely did not seem to understand that politics is about pragmatism, and that sending the right moral message was just as important as the scientific fact of the differing harm that illegal drugs do.

  2. I think so much of what happens in business and public life these days conveniently airbrushes issue of ethics out of the picture Daisy. I was listening to Radio 4 last night about the softwre systems that were designed to predict share buying behaviour and how the 'soft/human' part of the system was left out of the process with the results we have harvested today.

    Social affairs are different to protons, quarks, chemicals and rocks. A naturalistic approach to truth in this case is partial and not absolute.