Friday, 30 October 2009

UK Government sends message to its advisors: You Don't Matter

The UK Government has just sacked the head of its drugs advisory body, for claiming that his organisation's work had been "devalued" in favour of the government's existing policies. It's a claim that's hard to argue against, given that the government soundly ignored this body's advice in the past whenever it conflicted with their pre-established policy stance (e.g. this and this). By simply using science as a way to promote its existing agenda, and not as a way of making actual decisions, the government had been sending a clear message to its advisors. "Your decisions and expertise do not actually matter. You are here to service us." This firing merely underlines that truth.

Given that this is the government behind the "dodgy dossier", such evidence- and reality-averse approaches to running the country are hardly surprising. However I have little reason to conclude that any of the other parties would act any differently. Is there a party out there willing to act on what the cold, hard facts tell it, or must I resign myself to living in a country where decisions are made on the basis of preconception, supposition, instinct, hysteria, and the opinions of whoever can best whisper in the MPs' ears?

Update: The article has since been expanded. I find this quote especially telling:

I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD. I would therefore ask you to step down from the Council with immediate effect.

The letter asking for him to step down:

It is important that the government's messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine the public understanding of them.

Clearly, if there's a mismatch between policy and the evidence, it should be kept out of public sight. So much for the ACMD's independence.