Monday, 2 November 2009

Why elected officials should be able to overule 'experts'

When Daniel Moylan, the Conservative Deputy Leader of RBKC Council, wanted to do something about the appalling mess that Kensington High Street had become he faced a seemingly insuperable obstacle in the council's own traffic and transport engineers. These experts, who feared being sued unless they stuck rigidly to the Department of Transport's outdated and antique 'guidance' on road design, refused to present RBKC members with the traffic scheme they wanted.

They warned Moylan that removing the cattle-pen barriers, taking down the thousand-odd signs that commanded pedestrians and motorists, and allowing people to make their own decisions as to how they shared the road space would lead to a massive increase in road accidents. Moylan persisted. Officials refused. In the end, RBKC councillors in committee made their own decisions at variance with their experts' recommendations, and thereby took personal legal liability for any accidents caused. It was an incredibly brave thing to do; if Moylan was wrong, he risked losing everything.

In the event, the years have proven so far that Moylan's scheme has actually reduced accidents on Kensington High Street, that traffic moves faster and everyone is happier. The experts aren't always right.

And even when the experts are right, in terms of a narrowly drawn scientific conclusion, it should always be democratically elected representative that have the final say; there are always other factors, perhaps far more important factors, than are considered by the scientists within their narrow remit.

If we let the pointy-heads rule us on the basis of their science alone, then Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic would never have stopped their compulsory sterilisation programmes, and women and men deemed eugenically detrimental would be castrated or have their wombs removed. Sweden, Polly Toynbee's favourite nation, only ceased doing this in 1976. If we let the pointy-heads rule us, then not only pre-war Germany but all of Europe would have euthanised defective infants and those men so terribly war-wounded that they were incapable of independent life. If we let the pointy-heads rule us, then we would waste thousands of billions of the world's wealth on combating mythical AGW. Oh, sorry ....

11 comments:

John said...

I think the point that Prof Nutt was treying to make was that When Snotgobbler said that "Skunk is a lethal drug" he was in fact talking bollocks.

We only have such a fucked up position on drugs because if Labour liberalise it, the Tories will slate them and vice versa.

I want to look forward to the Tories winning power, but when I hear the sort of nonsense that Chris Grayling comes oput with, I despair, as Alan johnson says pretty much the same things...

And further to your other post about troughing, why isn't Grayling out on his ear.. Cois he's a mate of Cameron.

The difference in your examples, is that the RBKC relates to an inference, whereas Prof Nutt is talking about directly measured outcomes. The other observation being that most of the workers in local government are hopeless drones.

Anonymous said...

Any pray tell us, have these traffic engineers, whose expert advice we now know to be complete twaddle, been sacked?

Brian, follower of Deornoth.

ben said...

I hope this post isn't in support of the governments decision to keep the populus poisoning its self with cigarettes and alcohol, at the expense of, ooh, less damaging substances. Big brother knows best, does it? why not legalise the lot, or make the whole lot illegal? it is clear cigarettes, alcohol and sports that involve large animals that are the real killers, so climb down off your high horse and enocurage bing drinking briton to stay in and smoke cannabis on a friday night, the country you love will be better off for it. As guido said today, "sacking scientists never kept the world flat, and it won't make alcohol a lesser evil than marijuana" or words to that effect.

ben said...

I hope this post isn't in support of the governments decision to keep the populus poisoning its self with cigarettes and alcohol, at the expense of, ooh, less damaging substances. Big brother knows best, does it? why not legalise the lot, or make the whole lot illegal? it is clear cigarettes, alcohol and sports that involve large animals that are the real killers, so climb down off your high horse and enocurage bing drinking briton to stay in and smoke cannabis on a friday night, the country you love will be better off for it. As guido said today, "sacking scientists never kept the world flat, and it won't make alcohol a lesser evil than marijuana" or words to that effect.

Elby the Beserk said...

Agreed, Raedwald, regarding the case you cite. Prof. Nutt's case is, however, entirely different, as not only are the govt going against what he says, they are also propagating lies about drugs.

Given this, well done him for standing up to them. A loud hurrah for Prof. Nutt.

And if decriminalisation has worked in Portugal, give me one good reason why it can't work here?

Frankly, anyone who could dose Brown with a mega-dose of best Hawaiian Psilocybin would be doing the nation a huge favour. You don't have to die to meet your maker :-)

Pat said...

When (not if) there is an accident in Kensington High street- caused say by some idiot not looking where he's going- be sure that councel for his insurer will not be backward in pointing out if the scheme doesn't meet Department of Transport standards, and on past evidence the council will be forced to pay damages and may face prosecution from the HSE.
The councillors can point out to their electors that the scheme is a net benefita and the damages unfair with some chance of being believed; maybe they will even get credit if the scheme is as good as you say. An officer who signed up to such a scheme would simpply be sacked and become unemployable- any credit would acrue to the politicians. And you wonder why officers don't go along with schemes that threaten their careers, with no commensurate benefit.
I seriously doubt that any have been sacked, because I assume that Kensington has more than one street, and the councillors can't all devote 40 hrs a week to them on top of the things they're doing anyway- plus I'm cynical enough to think that councilors wouldn't want the exposure to risk involved in taking direct and total responsibility for all traffic accidents in the area.
Until the courts make it plain that accidents are accepted as part of normal life, and discourage plaintiffs from seeking redress from miswfortune, officers will continue to cover their backs, especially whilst the Department of Transport issues guidance notes which it claims are definitive best practise. And Councillors will still want officers to take the blame when things go wrong. I don't recall during the baby P fracas anyone calling for councillors to take a rap, only council employees.
Of course disposing of the HSE would greatly assist- they seem to me to be mainly involved in justifying their own existance- the usual method is to demand some procedure is followed supposedly to make us safe, and then come down like a ton of bricks on anyone they can find not ticking the right boxes. I doubt that they've saved many accidents.
As for Professor Nutt- He was amployed by HMG as an expert on a subject, paid for some time to research the subject, and was then told, effectively, that he knew nothing about it, HMG already knew the right answer. So HMG are clearly wrong- if they did actually know the answer they had no business hiring anyone at all to study the subject, if they didn't then they are wrong to ignore him. I rather think that politicians believe that the majority in favour of prohibition is much stonger than it acually is, especially with regards to cannabis which the world and his wife has experimented with at some time.
A more rational government response to the advice apparantly recieved would be to cease funding propoganda designed to promote prohibition, and simply wait and see how opinion polls drift when left to their own devices. They even have an excuse- we haven't got the money.

Chrysippus said...

Hmmmm. Having read the link relating to compulsory sterilisation I'm warming up to the pointy headed scientists....

Budgie said...

This is a symptom of the paralysis at the heart of our parliament. With a terminally incompetent Prime Minister, MPs mired in the expenses scandal, and power draining away to the EU, hired experts think they can make policy.

Prof Mutt's job was to advise Ministers privately. It is for Ministers and parliament to determine policy, not advisers. It is parliament that should hold Ministers to account, and the public who should hold parliament to account. Scientists are not infallible.

thefatlady said...

"Mythical" AGW? Have you changed your mind?

banned said...

Let's not forget that Proff. Nutt was not trying to defend cannabis use as such, he was ahead of the governments game in using the established dangers of drug misuse to further demonise tobacco and alcolhol to levels that the government dare not go, yet.

Nutt and his colleagues are banstubaters of the worst kind and they have the cheek to say that without them the govt. have " no-one else " to turn to for advice on the subject.

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