It is a long time since I have seen Alan Johnson so angry as he was with Adam Boulton on Sky News this morning, defending his decision to sack Professor David Nutt from his position as chief drugs adviser. But he was absolutely right to do so. Professor Nutt seems surprised that the Home Secretary should take exception to his adviser publicly slagging off the government, and breezily declaring ecstasy to be less problematic than horseriding. Such spurious comparisons may have some statistical merit - for example, in preparing a new edition of Freakonomics - but they do little to advertise the seriousness of someone charged with providing advice on a subject of huge concern to millions of families across Britain.
Johnson, as the elected politician, is charged with making decisions, drawing on scientific advice but also on society's expectations. It is a calculation that seems wholly to have eluded Prof Nutt. Look by contrast at the excellent chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson, to see someone who has an understanding of the real world as well as huge skills in his specialist field. That Prof Nutt seemed so unfamiliar with that world in which a Home Secretary or Prime Minister has to operate may qualify him for a place in the ivory towers of academia. But it made him ill-suited to being a government adviser.
MONDAY 1.30pm UPDATE: Those who are defending Prof Nutt seem to suffer from two delusions. The first is that the Professor was prevented from giving advice based on his view of the evidence in public. He was not. He was sacked for actively campaigning against government policy. The second is that his view of the dangers of cannabis and ecstasy is a scientific truth, accepted by the entire scientific community. In that light, the work of Prof Robin Murray, which has shown the harmful impact of continued cannabis use on people's mental health is particularly illuminating. Indeed, if Prof Murray who also gave a fascinating and worrying interview on the World at One today is right, it would seem that some of the advice given on this subject by this 'expert' committee was not only wrong, but dangerously so.
This post has been picked up by John Rentoul and Hopi Sen.