Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Professor Nutt and Evidence-Based Policy

The UK government recently took a brave and difficult decision. When faced with an advisor on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs who brazenly and openly dared to state that alcohol is a more dangerous drug than cannabis they took swift and decisive action. Abandoning all pretence of adhering to such a thing as "evidence-based policy" they proceeded to remove the only pharmacist on the Council thus ensuring that the Council no longer operates in accord with its statutory requirements. Faced with such decisive action taken in brazen disregard of evidence the opposition Conservative Party did the only acceptable thing: they spoke in favour of the government's action.

Incidentally subsequent to becoming involved in this incident another minister from the same government made a major speech on education policy. Disregarding the results of the last Research Assessment Exercise that demonstrated "pockets of excellence" across the whole sector this minister, Peter Mandelson, bravely followed the example of Alan Johnson (who was responsible for sacking Professor Nutt) and made clear that in future only the so-called "top" universities would be expected to engage seriously in research. By contrast, most other universities, and most particularly the "new" ones (at which there is most demonstrated evidence of value-added education) would, in future, be expected to concentrate primarily on sub-degree level education. This policy is not only developed in brave and principled opposition to the results of the last research exercise. It also ensures that most universities will be effectively penalised for any previous success whilst the "top" universities will be given further leeway to perpetuate present practices that resulted in their researchers last time being often deemed well below "excellent". Jolly good results all round and fair demonstration that the UK government is firmly committed to evidence-based policy and a scientific approach to decision making. And congratulations to the main opposition party in the UK for doing its job of agreeing wholeheartedly with the government on any subject where the evidence points clearly against their policy.

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