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The highs and lows of policy based evidence

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 04 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4564
  1. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology, University College London
  1. d.colquhoun{at}

    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 (BMJ 2009;339:b4563, doi:10.1136/bmj.b4563).

    In a democracy there is no doubt that decisions must be made by politicians. Sceptical though one may be about politicians, I’m not sure that I’d want to live in a country ruled by scientists. Politicians have wider responsibilities than scientists, and they can be voted out if we don’t like the decisions. Why, then, the explosion of indignation when Professor Nutt got the sack?

    In the House of Commons Mr Johnson said, “I asked Professor Nutt to resign as …

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