I have the feeling this is going to be a long and involved rant were I may well side track myself, so hold onto your hats and here we go!
Last week Alaric told me of a Daily Mail article that had made him angry and sad and all the rest of it because of the plain stupid reporting of it. The representation of scientists alone is cringe worthy let alone the sensationalism of it. The misunderstanding that is going on between science and the public at the moment is a subject dear to my heart and the source of many of my rants as many of you know.
Now obviously I have already hit upon two subjects there worthy of their own essays or posts or what ever it is I tend to write.
But basically the main concern I have is for the independence of scienctists to actually have freedom to share their research results and opinions.
When I woke up this morning the radio was playing and the news started and what I heard frankly scared me. If scientists in an independent advisory body can not give impartial advise to the government and let their views be known to the general public and all of the public by mass media, this means then they are not independent and their results can not be trusted; they just become a tool of the governing body and the People lose a degree of freedom.
And yes I know that I'm sounding like a fanatic communist with the insertion of People there but think about this - we all of us are the people and if we are not careful we will end up in an apathetic totalitarian state, which is where we appear to be heading.
I may well be over-reacting but apathy is the biggest danger to a nation's freedom. Think on and look up how the Nazi's got into power in Germany. Think upon these things and see why I feel that in order to keep our nation somewhere that I am allowed to utter my thoughts out loud without fear of persecution I have to state my beliefs publically and fight in the only way I have (other than voting) for our rights as a nation as a people.
Ok, so what actually is my issue?
Professor David Nutt was sacked as chairman for the Drugs Advisory Council - why?
Because it would appear that he said things and wrote a paper that the government didn't agree with. But he was part of an advisory body which is supposed to be independent of the government. Why does it matter if the advisory body is independent? Especially if funded by government money - you'd think that it should be controlled right?
Wrong - for research into many many things, especially stuff that has a direct influence on the way a society behaves, then it is important that the research and investigations are carried out seperately from the government in order not to 'lead' the research. You can severely skew results by accident or on purpose by designing bad experiments - this is done by having a fixed idea of what the result 'should' be and so you exclude the things that might throw a spanner in the works. You study closed groups with no outliers and controls; you do many things that subtly skew and distort the actual system your trying to portray.
And the more complex a system you're studying, the easier it is to do this.
Society is a very complex system.
Then there is the matter that if a government, through power hunger or benign intent, decided a society should behave in a certain manner which may or may not be what's best for the society or what it wants. If the advisory bodies are 'controlled' by the government then they will give the government the answers they want to hear, often with deleterious effects.
Again, look at the science of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia - yes they achieved great things but they stunted their own technological developments and their 'industries' grew only at the expense of human life.
These things may seem the distant past now but History and its study are needed to spot these patterns to stop the same things happening over and over.
Ok so what about this Nutt dude and what he said - the government want to crack down on drugs he pointed out that there was more damage being done by things like alchohol. Which is correct.
The Daily Mail for one went off alarmingly over this calling Nutt a drug tzar and completely missing the fact that, yes, alcohol causes more damage than drugs.
This surely is a well known fact - ask the doctors and A&E nurses about drunks, ask social severces about the beaten and battered children.
Look at Edwardian times - when Opium was still readily avalible - it was Gin that had the police concern, Gin that turned mothers into baby killers so they could sell the cloths to buy... more Gin.
Now I am not denying that drugs and alcohol go together; in fact they are very much links mainly because, like it or not, alcohol is a DRUG - oooo controversial but it is. It alters our perceptions, our moods and our inhibitions, it makes us vulnerable and dangerous.
It is a big factor in many rape cases, and violent acts on the street and in the home, it takes up a lot of the precious ambulance time (don't believe me? check out this ambulence drivers blog). It leads to fitting if too much is consumed - I know I had to deal with more than one person in this state.
It can even lead to hallucinations though that is obviously in the extreme.
In the sort of quantieties most of us are consuming it in this country there are long term health effects and most of them bad - most of them leading to a lot of the costs placed on our struggling NHS.
Kidney, Liver, heart etc... are all affected by it. The toxins that give you a hangover are drying out your brain (I'm serious the fluid in the 'ventricles' of the brain shrinks due to the dehydration caused by the alcohol - this is one of the factors leading to the headaches).
And people often take it with other drugs - now this leads to an interesting point - it was thought that there was such a thing as a 'gateway' drug. This being a drug that leads the user into wanting to try different and 'harder' drugs - they thought it was cannibis. They did research and found that it was infact nicotine.
And were do we find nicotine? Oh cigerettes - those over the counter cancer sticks - yes those ones. It is them that get people hooked onto the concept of trying harder drugs.
So tell me way with all the medical research alcohol and cigerrettes are legal with their HUGE cost to the NHS and legal system when cannibis and the like aren't?
Becuase they are socially acceptable? Even though one scars your lungs and kills the poeple around you and the other leads to more anti-social and dangerous behavoiour?
When I worked at the Student Union I expected to see drug use - I expected to see badness arise from it - but you know apart from a sad incident of someone using Rohipnal on a student (this ended in long involved things with the police - the person preyed on students generally freshers) the main issue was alcolhol.
To the point that even before the government intervened there where things in place to try and encourage sensible drinking and even a mini bus service to stop people walking home on their own in states where they would have been easy prey.
Especially if mixed with sporting events the alcohol could result in things getting quite hairy especially when you're a 5ft female in the first place - but I was good at defusing potential situations and I had my radio and back up.
Now we had police and bouncer license people come in and give us lectures of drugs proceedures - ie if you suspect or see them - how the bars license could get taken away etc.... So it was something I was watching for.
Now this all sounds like I am saying "ban the drinks, ban the smoking" and though I am glad that bars are now non smoking becuase I don't really want lung fulls of smoke and I was having resperatory problems when I was working every night, I do not think these things should be banned.
And you know I don't think the drugs should be banned either. I will state at this point that I don't take drugs and I don't smoke and I rarely drink so why am I pro-drug?
Becuase if you push something underground you give it into the hands of the crime lords - you hand our youth over to some really very dangerous people.
You drive more people to experiment because its illegal, because its taboo and they are young (or having a mid-life crisis) and they want to 'rebel'. If its not illegal I believe less of them would take the drugs or even smoke in the first place.
If there are places they can pick up safely manufactured drugs that aren't cut with fertilizer and that have easilly seen strengths, the number of over doses and deaths by toxic substances would go down. The amount of crime to find the money to buy the drugs or secure favour with the 'pimp' would decrease. It would be out in the open.
It would be safe and boring.
Drive it underground and you have prohibition america, you have gangster rule, you make everyone a criminal just by association - if you know of something going on and don't tell the authorities you're a criminal. The Police themselves become criminals under this system leading to harsh punishments and divided loyalities - this opens the route to constitutional corruption and more cans of worms than I care to write about.
Why all the hoohar over a scientist stating what I thought had been known for decades now?
Would it be something to do with taxation on the socially 'acceptable' drugs?
Would it be because we are slowely losing our freedoms in this country and the mass population don't seem to have noticed? Well who can blame them - they are working hard and slogging out a life and the big picture is rarely put in the news - instead they are getting bitesize pieces of information that on their own look perfectly harmless but there is a very scary trend and when I first came across it I didn't believe that it would lead to the loss of liberty. I now fear it will.
In what I term my 'year out', the one between Uni and getting married when I was working for Alaric's step mother, the Student Union and classifying meteorites at the Natural History Museum I discovered why my fiance's parents where moving out of the country.
The reason - certain laws had been passed which Lynne considered to be against our freedom of speach - these where mixed up with the new anti-terrorist laws.
Having been raised in South Africa and having parents who where imprisioned as anti-Apartheid freedom fighters she had a unique out look on the laws being passed. It was, she said, the beginning of a slippery slope and she could not live in a country that was heading that way.
I thought at the time she was over reacting, though I saw her point. But as I have watched things decay in this country I am really actually getting quite scared and worried about it.
Mix in the restrictions on freedom, our crumbling social systems and the dumbing down in the education system and I want to cry.
Half of the issue here isn't just the freedom of speech it is the general publics mis-understanding and fear of science. And publications like the Daily Mail don't help making people think science is this scary cold subject with little bearing on real life.
This is not the case, science and technology permeate our society in lots of ways people don't realise. But I am starting to come across people with A levels and AS in science subjects who know nothing of what 'science' is and have been turned away from science by the way it has been portrayed. With changes that have sneaked into the curriculum (and I don't by they way think all the changes are bad and I like some of them but...) the essence of science, of analysising of creative thinking - infact of thinking at all, and not just being good at recalling facts, is being lost.
We have a country built on the legacy of the Victorian scientists and engineers and we are raising a generation whose school education is stiffling their thinking and creativity. This makes was an easily manipulated population but doesn't bode well for future economic and global political success of the nation as a whole. And where do we think the Drs and nurses come from? And the teachers?
Nor does it bode well for the idividuals who would be creative champions - and I believe creativity is above science and art and that to do either you need creativity. My hope is that the internet and our struggling libaries will curb this trend but they will probably only make a dent.
As I have said before - whilst I can speak out about the ills of society that I percieve, I will. On the radio this morning the Drugs commision are basically all resigning but as one of them pointed out - the resignation was announced by the home office before they'd actually carried out the threat and sent the letters or announced themselves, and this was after a meeting where they were being told the government wasn't interfering and that they wanted a relationship of trust - how can you trust something that does that?
I welcome opinions by the way so feel free to leave a comment and wow thats over 2000 words :/