THE POISON GARDEN website      Arum maculatum berries on a Cannabis leaf 

Search thepoisongarden.co.uk:

This free script provided by JavaScript Kit

Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Saturday 29th September 2012

I had decided not to write, for a third time, about Channel 4’s ‘Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial’ but something I read, yesterday, seemed to be so relevant that I thought I would offer some views on different parts of the programmes.

Like a lot of people, I wasn’t impressed with the format because it meant the programme wasted the resources it had to hand. On both nights, the audience was made up of people deeply involved in drugs policy, from all sides, yet, rather than invite contributions from these people who would have had something interesting to say, quite a bit of time was spent hearing ‘what Twitter has to say’.

On the few occasions when someone in the audience was consulted they were cut off before they could make their point. In one case, the identity and bona fides of the audience member was established only for Dr Christian Jessen to be forced to hand back to Jon Snow before anything was said.

I find that I am in agreement with Kathy Gyngell on this point but with one important exception. I’m concerned that we didn’t hear from people who had been invited because of their involvement, regardless of their position. Kathy is only concerned that;

‘Child development expert, Professor Derek Moore, Julia Manning, chief exec of the 2020 Health think tank and David Raynes, drugs prevention campaigner and expert on drug trafficking including precursor chemicals, did not even get a look in.’

She uses that to infer that the programme only heard from proponents of ecstasy use. Just another example of the cherry-picking so often seen.

In spite of my concern about the format, I still think the intention was worthwhile because, as I said the other day, the advantage is that ‘this trial can be presented direct to the public and without its results being perverted by journalistic prejudice’.

There have been plenty of examples of that prejudice. As you would expect Kathy Gyngell had something to say but, being Kathy Gyngell and, therefore, incapable of presenting an argument without resorting to abuse, her views seem to come down to ‘there is no merit in these programmes because Prof. David Nutt is fat’.

There was, however, another piece in the Mail Online that is worth some consideration. Not for what it has to say but for one of the most blatant examples of cherry-picking you will find. On Thursday 27th September I said;

This article by the BBC’s Mark Easton gives a clear identification of the way Prof. Parrott cherry picks his data to support his point.’

So I thought I would look at how cherry-picking is used to distort an argument.

The Mail Online’s piece is entitled ‘Fury at Channel 4's Drugs Live as viewers brand it little more than an advert for ecstasy that encourages 'a dangerous air of acceptability to taking the drug'.’ That sets up what the article intends to do i.e. show that the programme encouraged ecstasy use. To make that point, the reporters turned to Twitter. They quoted three Tweets. The first two set up the notion that the programme was an encouragement to ecstasy use;

‘Watching Drugs Live. Teenager watching too.... It’s a great advert for E – not what I was hoping for’

And

‘Think everyone is going to be on MDMA at the weekend after this great commercial on Channel 4 Drugs Live.’

The third offered proof of that;

‘Drugs live has made me want to do drugs for the first time in years.’

Case proven.

Except; I had the Twitter feed for the hashtag #DrugsLive open during the programme on Wednesday. Tweets were appearing in blocks of 40 or 50 every minute and during the hour of transmission there must have been thousands of tweets. Even the few I managed to read showed a full range of opinions from welcoming the information to abhorring the glamorisation. Selecting just three and claiming they are representative of ‘viewers’ in general is simply silly.

I want to mention two other things that struck me during the second programme. The female vicar, who featured on the first programme, returned to talk about having PTSD after being assaulted and said that, during the trial, she had been able to examine the experience without any difficulty. Furthermore, a week after the trial she could still think about what had happened to her without becoming upset. This demonstration that ecstasy could be used to cure PTSD with a single dose was immediately leapt on by David Nutt who said ‘Anecdote is not evidence, of course’.

When Keith Allen talked about the fact that he experienced none of the euphoria he associates with taking ecstasy, Prof. Andy Parrott immediately leapt in to say that this was proof that ecstasy produces tolerance and that is dangerous. No, Prof. Parrott; ‘Anecdote is not evidence, of course’ and shame on you for pretending that you don’t know that to be the case.

The final point I found interesting is that David Nutt and Val Curran used ‘seems to’ and ‘appears to’ and other similar terms of indecision when talking about what the trials had shown. Prof. Parrott used ‘does’ when talking about the effects of ecstasy.

It was this point that struck me, yesterday. I’m currently reading ‘Drugs, Crime and Public Health: The Political Economy of Drug Policy’ by Alex Stevens and I reached the part where Prof, Stevens writes about the time he spent seconded to the civil service. He details the way in which every attempt he made to include caveats in reports was rebuffed and notes that the culture was to present information in simple graphs leading the reader to a clear and undeniable conclusion about what the data showed. That conclusion has to be that current policy is working or that a proposed change WILL work.

It made me wonder if there is an ingrained cultural problem with progressing sensible drug policy. There’s almost a nominative determinism to this. The Nutts talk in ‘maybes’ and ‘possiblys’ and stress the unknowns that might impact on policy. The Parrotts talk in certainties, often repeating back to the policy makers what they want to hear.

When the ACMD’s 2008 report on whether Cannabis sativa, marijuana, should be reclassified concluded that ‘On balance…the majority of the Council advises that cannabis and the cannabinols remain in Class C’ that was the voice of the Nutts and was no match for the Parrotts telling government that cannabis WAS more of a problem than it had been when the classification was reduced and that the Class C reclassification DID encourage more young people to use the drug.

I strongly suspect that, if the ACMD’s forthcoming report on Catha edulis, khat, contains the words ‘on balance’, or a similar concept, the government will go with the Parrotts and classify the plant. 

Submit a Comment

You can send comments via the contact page but please be sure to say what blog entry you are commenting on.

Follow @thepoisongarden on Twitter

Full Entries

2016

Tuesday 25th October 2016 Saturday 20th August 2016 Sunday 6th March 2016 Wednesday 3rd February 2016

2015

Saturday 28th November 2015 Friday 27th November 2015 Monday 17th August 2015 Wednesday 15th July 2015 Friday 26th June 2015 Thursday 25th June 2015 Thursday 30th April 2015 Wednesday 29th April 2015 Wednesday 11th March 2015 Tuesday 3rd March 2015 Saturday 28th February 2015 Sunday 22nd February 2015

November 2014

 

Monday 24th November 2014 Saturday 8th November 2014

October 2014

September 2014

Wednesday 24th September 2014 Monday 1st September 2014

August 2014

Tuesday 26th August 2014 Saturday 16th August 2014 Tuesday 5th August 2014 Friday 1st August 2014

July 2014

Sunday 27th July 2014 Wednesday 23rd July 2014 Sunday 13th July 2014 Sunday 6th July 2014 Tuesday 1st July 2014

June 2014

Wednesday 25th June 2014 Tuesday 24th June 2014 Sunday 22nd June 2014 Monday 9th June 2014 Wednesday 4th June 2014

May 2014

Monday 26th May 2014 Sunday 18th May 2014 Wednesday 14th May 2014

April 2014

Sunday 13th April 2014 Saturday 5th April 2014 Thursday 3rd April 2014 Tuesday 1st April 2014

March 2014

Monday 31st March 2014 Tuesday 25th March 2014 Friday 21st March 2014 Monday 17th March 2014 Sunday 16th March 2014 Tuesday 11th March 2014 Thursday 6th March 2014 Wednesday 5th March 2014 Saturday 1st March 2014

February 2014

Thursday 27th February 2014 Monday 24th February 2014 Wednesday 19th February 2014 Monday 17th February 2014 Thursday 13th February 2014 Monday 4th February 2014 Monday 3rd February 2014 Saturday 1st February 2014

January 2014

Thursday 28th January 2014 Thursday 23rd January 2014 Friday 17th January 2014 Wednesday 15th January 2014 Monday 13th January 2014 Thursday 9th January 2014 Tuesday 7th January 2014 Wednesday 1st January 2014

December 2013

Monday 23rd December 2013 Friday 20th December 2013 Tuesday 17th December 2013 Friday 14th December 2013 Thursday 12th December 2013 Sunday 8th December 2013 Wednesday 4th December 2013 Sunday 1st December 2013

November 2013

Friday 29th November 2013 Wednesday 27th November 2013 Tuesday 26th November 2013 Friday 22nd November 2013 Monday 18th November 2013 Friday 15th November 2013 Thursday 14th November 2013 Sunday 10th November 2013 Thursday 7th November 2013 Wednesday 6th November 2013 Friday 1st November 2013

October 2013

Thursday 31st October 2013 Sunday 27th October 2013 Wednesday 23rd October 2013 Monday 21st October 2013 Friday 18th October 2013 Friday 11th October 2013 Wednesday 9th October 2013 Tuesday 8th October 2013 Monday 7th October 2013 Tuesday 1st October 2013

September 2013

Monday 30th September 2013 Saturday 28th September 2013 Friday 27th September 2013 Monday 23rd September 2013 Sunday 15th September 2013 Monday 9th September 2013 Sunday 8th September 2013 Tuesday 3rd September 2013 Sunday 1st September 2013

August 2013

Tuesday 27th August 2013 Sunday 25th August 2013 Monday 19th August 2013 Friday 16th August 2013 Tuesday 13th August 2013 Friday 9th August 2013 Friday 2nd August 2013 Thursday 1st August 2013

July 2013

Saturday 27th July 2013 Sunday 21st July 2013 Wednesday 17th July 2013 Monday 15th July 2013 Saturday 13th July 2013 Friday 12th July 2013 Thursday 11th July 2013 Wednesday 10th July 2013 Tuesday 9th July 2013 Saturday 6th July 2013

June 2013

Friday 28th June 2013 Tuesday 25th June 2013 Friday 21st June 2013 Thursday 20th June 2013 Wednesday 19th June 2013 Saturday 15th June 2013 Sunday 9th June 2013 Saturday 8th June 2013 Saturday 1st June 2013

May 2013April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 blog June 2012 blog May 2012 blog April 2012 blog March 2012 blog February 2012 blog January 2012 blog December 2011 blog November 2011 blog October 2011 blog September 2011 blog August 2011 blog July 2011 blog June 2011 blog


IMPORTANT NOTE

The POISON GARDEN website is not connected with Alnwick Garden Enterprises Ltd and/or The Alnwick Garden Trust.