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Hazy politics, man

David Nutt’s sacking stems from scientists’ overconfidence in their ability to shape policy

In 1775, Percivall Pott found a link between soot and scrotal cancer. The surgeon’s insight led to the 1788 Chimney Sweepers Act, probably the first legislation that could claim to be, in modern Whitehall lingo, evidence-based. In the two centuries since, politicians have learned to pick and choose the advice they follow, and use scientists as cover for awkward decisions—making the furore over government drugs adviser David Nutt’s sacking all the more curious.

Nutt has framed his October dismissal by the home secretary Alan Johnson as a conflict between politics and science. Referring to the 2008 decision to upgrade cannabis…

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