Professor David Nutt is the winner of the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.
The international prize is awarded for courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty and hostility in doing so.
The judges awarded the prize to Professor Nutt in recognition of the impact his thinking and actions have had in influencing evidence-based classification of drugs, in the UK and elsewhere in the world, and his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism.
Professor Nutt is the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. He was named chairman of the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in May 2008. His role was to make scientific recommendations to government ministers on classification of illegal drugs based on the harm they can cause.
Being awarded this prize gives me the confidence to continue to do what's right, and hopefully will inspire others to follow suit.
– Professor David Nutt
Department of Medicine
In 2009 Professor Nutt was dismissed from his role at the ACMD by Home Secretary Alan Johnson after speaking out about the Government’s policies on drugs being at odds with the evidence. Concerns among the scientific community following Professor Nutt’s dismissal led to the creation of the Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice, which are now part of the Ministerial Code.
The Prize is a joint initiative of the science journal Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science. The late Sir John Maddox, FRS, was editor of Nature for 22 years and a founding trustee of Sense About Science.
This year is the second time the prize has been awarded. In 2012, the winners were psychiatrist Professor Simon Wessely of King’s College London and science journalist Fang Shi-min.
Professor Nutt said: “Science is arguably the defining characteristic of humanity. It therefore is imperative that scientists play their full role in all aspects of human life. Being awarded this prize gives me the confidence to continue to do what’s right, and hopefully will inspire others to follow suit.”
The judging panel consisted of Tracey Brown, Director of Sense About Science; Philip Campbell, editor of Nature; Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS of the University of Cambridge and Professor Colin Blakemore of the Universities of London and Oxford.
Professor Colin Blakemore said: “The 2013 Prize recognises Professor Nutt’s exceptional strength of character and his personal commitment to the open presentation of scientific evidence. In circumstances that would have humiliated and silenced most people, David Nutt continued to affirm the importance of evidence in understanding the harms of drugs and in developing drug policy. He took personal risk to his reputation in the name of sound science and in defending the right of researchers to present scientific opinion publicly. Policy makers are, of course, not compelled to follow scientific advice, but they are accountable to the public and to their own advisers if they choose not to do so. We need people like David Nutt to assert the independence of scientific advice and to inform the public when government policy departs from that advice.”
Tracey Brown said: “John Maddox was a strong and brave communicator and in his years as a trustee of Sense About Science he urged us to be stronger and braver too. The nominations for the John Maddox Prize were humbling. They showed that his values are carried forward in the courage and responsibility that people are taking to communicate sound science and evidence in diverse situations around the world. I am pleased that the prize is being awarded to David Nutt, who has put that responsibility at the centre of everything he does, from international policy meetings to debates in pubs and community clubs.”
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