If it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. By definition, news is something that almost never happens.
…It feels insensitive to say it so close to the tragedy, but it’s true. What people should worry about are things so common that they’re no longer news. That’s what kills people. Terrorism is so rare, it’s hardly a risk worth spending a lot of time worrying about. —
Well put: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/16/if-you-are-scared-they-win-if-you-refuse-to-be-scared-they-lose/
Some rough stats:
Aircraft crash deaths per day: 3
Aircraft pollution deaths per day: 27
Mining deaths per day: 33 (around half in coal mines)
Deaths caused by terrorism globally per day: 36 (over 75% of these in the Middle East and South Asia)
Global deaths from extreme weather events per day: 77
Americans killed by gun crime per day: 87
War deaths globally per day: 151
Deaths from earthquakes per day: 172
Car crash deaths per day: 3,200
Deaths from AIDS per day: 4,900
Deaths caused by smoking per day: 13,700
Deaths from air pollution per day: 16,400
Deaths of children aged 0-5 per day from pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition, malaria and other diseases, mostly preventable: 19,000
They’re all tragic (though we might care about some age groups more than others, and the risk varies), but these are important numbers for deciding which issues deserve the most money, time and thought.
I completely missed this in December, but it’s a really remarkable sign of things to come. 100,000 full genomes are to be sequenced within the NHS over the next 5 years (if all goes to plan). I think that’s more full human genomes than the total sequenced worldwide since 2000. “A revolution is approaching”.
Prime Minister David Cameron [announced] plans to transform cancer treatment in England with new proposals to introduce high-tech DNA mapping for cancer patients and those with rare diseases, within the NHS.
The UK will be the first country in the world to introduce the technology within a mainstream health system, with up to 100,000 patients over three to five years having their whole genome – their personal DNA code –sequenced. […] The Government has earmarked £100 million. […]
When the human genome was fully sequenced for the first time in 2000, the project had cost approximately £500 million.
We will soon be able to sequence a human genome for less than £1,000, and the cost is likely fall further. As a result, experts believe a revolution in the way healthcare is delivered is approaching, with personalised medicines and individualised treatments becoming available for the first time.
The sequencing of 100,000 patients’ genomes in centres capable of sequencing DNA at speed in the UK will further drive down the cost.
David Cameron urged to take 'now or never' step on drugs reform -
Cross-party committee says prime minister should set up royal commission on Britain’s failing drug laws
Full PDF report available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmhaff/184/184.pdf
For me, the details of a press standards code are as important as the overarching structure of press regulation. Encouraging online outlets simply to link to the scientific and social policy studies they talk about would, I think, be a big improvement. It gives more power to the reader, at the expense of the media’s ability to spin facts how it likes - I don’t see how that can be a bad thing or the beginning of some Orwellian nightmare.
The Executive Summary says:
“A new regulatory body should consider encouraging the press to be as transparent as possible in relation to the sources used for stories, including providing any information that would help readers to assess the reliability of information from a source and providing easy access, such as web links, to publicly available sources of information such as scientific studies or poll results. This should include putting the names of photographers alongside images. This is not in any way intended to undermine the existing provisions on protecting journalists’ sources, only to encourage transparency where it is both possible and appropriate to do so.”
Over at The Poison Garden is a preliminary fisking of Peter Hitchens’s upcoming drugs policy book and its promotion. That led me to track down a fascinating document of Cabinet Conclusions. The date is 26th February 1970 and the topic is “the forthcoming Misuse of Drugs Bill”. The Home Secretary is James Callaghan, and this is a few months before Wilson loses the election to the Tories (who - very unusually - see that the previous government’s bill becomes law). In another document (the memorandum) Callaghan states that his own view is that the three-classifications idea should be ignored, and that possession of any controlled drug should have a maximum sentence of 7 years.
Here’s the drugs discussion in its entirety, with emphasis added by me (note how easily managing public opinion is put ahead of rationality and considered expert judgement):
“The Cabinet had before them a memorandum by the Home Secretary on the Misuse of Drugs Bill (C (70) 34).
The Home Secretary said that the Home Affairs Committee had recently considered the range of penalties to be provided in the forthcoming Misuse of Drugs Bill. Existing legislation on this subject distinguished in principle between the offences of simple possession of controlled drugs and trafficking in them. But, under the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1965, which dealt with heroin, cocaine, morphine and cannabis, the two offences had been treated on the same basis and the same penalty of ten years’ imprisonment applied to each. Under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1964, which dealt with amphetamines, LSD and other hallucinogens, possession was punishable by two years’ imprisonment; and there was no separate offence of trafficking. The Committee had agreed that the new Bill should continue to distinguish between the offences of possession and trafficking; but they had also approved a division of drugs into three categories, each of which would attract a separate and appropriate penalty. But if—as was clearly right—the penalties for trafficking should be increased (e.g. in the case of the most dangerous drugs, from the existing limit of ten years’ imprisonment to a new limit of 14 years), it followed that the penalties for simple possession of the less serious drugs should be reduced; and the Committee had recommended that on this basis the penalty for possession of cannabis might be curtailed from ten years to three years. Further reflection, however, had suggested that public opinion might well regard a change of this kind as indicating too lenient an attitude on the part of the Government towards the potentially dangerous practice of drug-taking; and the Cabinet would wish to consider whether the political damage which the Government might suffer if this impression gained ground was sufficiently serious to justify a modification of the terms of the Bill before it was introduced.
If so, one of two courses could be adopted. The first would preserve the three categories of controlled drugs but would increase the penalties for simple possession of drugs in the two most serious categories from three years’ imprisonment to five years in the case of cannabis and from five years to seven years in the case of heroin, cocaine, etc. The second approach, which on the whole he advised, would be to abandon the distinction between categories of drugs entirely and to provide single maximum penalties for possession and trafficking respectively. The former might be either ten years or seven years’ imprisonment; the latter would be 14 years in all cases.
In discussion, there was general agreement that it would be right to maintain the distinction between the offences of possession and trafficking and to establish a more flexible and discriminating classification of the various categories of drugs. But the proposed reduction of the penalty for simple possession of cannabis from ten years’ imprisonment to three years would be liable to be severely criticised by public opinion, especially by parents and teachers. The impact of this apparent concession to the permissive tendencies in society would not be offset by the increase in the penalty for possession in the case of other drugs (e.g. LSD); and the Government might be at considerable political risk as a result. It would be very unwise to underestimate the degree of public concern on this subject and the ease with which the Governments intentions might be misinterpreted.
On the other hand, the proposals as approved by the Home Affairs Committee were the result of very careful consideration and reflected the considered judgment of expert opinion. Of the two alternative courses which the Home Secretary had suggested the second would entail a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment for simple possession of cannabis; and a sentence of such severity was wholly unrealistic in relation to the offence as committed by, for example, a schoolchild. Moreover, the penalty actually imposed would lie at the discretion of the court; and, since it was most unlikely that the court would in fact deal so harshly with an offence of this kind, the law itself would be liable to fall into disuse and disrepute. The political risks of proceeding with the proposals as approved by the Home Affairs Committee could be exaggerated; and in any event it would be wrong, in a matter of this kind, to subordinate the requirements of humanity and equity to political considerations.
The Prime Minister, summing up the discussion, said that it appeared that the Cabinet were in favour, by a small majority, of proceeding with the proposals recommended by the Home Affairs Committee. But it might help to allay public disquiet if the proposed penalties for possession of controlled drugs were increased to some extent—e.g. to seven years (instead of five years) for the most serious drugs and to five years (instead of three years) for drugs in the second category, including cannabis. The Cabinet agreed that the Bill should go forward on this basis.
Invited the Home Secretary to arrange for the early introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Bill on the basis indicated by the Prime Minister in his summing up of their discussion.”
PS If anyone has or can find any of the relevant Home Affairs Committee documents, please do let me know!
OH NOES! IS LION!
They went to the moon. The actual moon.
“Twelve men have walked on the Moon – all American – of whom eight are still living.” The youngest is almost 77.
15 Old Photographs That Prove the World Used to Be Insane -
Be sure to click through to p2.
Following on from the work of David Nutt and others - originally for the government’s own advisory panel - is another paper trying to compare the harms of different drugs. As with previous papers, and available at the British Medical Journal, this one’s not good news for our current classification system or the distinction between legal and illegal drugs.
One of the strengths of this study is the large number of experts involved. Two hundred and ninety-two addiction multidisciplinary experts across Scotland were involved making it the largest national panel to be involved in this type of study. [Addiction community psychiatric nurses were the largest group, making up 46% of the experts]
The main result is that heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth, alcohol and cocaine were in the top five places for all  categories of harm, with LSD, ecstasy, methylphenidate, magic mushrooms and cannabis in the bottom five places for all categories of harm. The hierarchy of harm when judged by the experts did not correlate with the hierarchy used currently by the Misuse of Drugs Act.
This study demonstrates, similar to both of Nutt’s studies, that the legality of a substance does not reflect its potential for harm.
The burgeoning evidence of the harm caused by tobacco and alcohol would also suggest that from a scientific perspective these drugs are currently misclassified and that a new method for ranking drug harm, which could guide policies and public health strategies, is required, with many in the scientific and medical community feeling that this should be separated from the criminal justice system and associated penalties.
Any new system would also have to address the issue of personal choice and responsibility in using substances and examine the context in which they are being used. Increasing public awareness of the potential for harm of all the drugs examined whether legal or illegal and finding ways of reducing the demand for psychoactive substances should be the focus rather than imposing harsh penalties for their use.
These methods of comparing harms aren’t perfect. One issue with this paper is that there’s no distinction between harms intrinsic to the drug and additional harm caused by prohibition. Whatever you think of legalisation, a regulated market certainly wouldn’t see heroin contaminated with anthrax, for example.
But these methods are certainly better than the politics and misinformed hysteria that have created the UK’s classification system.
Hopefully this and further improvements will help lead to a more sensible system, but it’s clear that there are also individual reclassifications that could help. The ACMD might next year recommend that Ketamine should be moved up to Class B. Based on this paper, that might be reasonable. But it may also be an opportunity to change - or at least discuss - other classifications, especially those of ecstasy and cannabis (in both cases Labour ignored ACMD advice), as well as LSD and magic mushrooms.
This is not entirely academic. Assuming some people listen to advice from the Home Office, information not based in fact promotes poor decisions and is a danger to people’s health. Think of the children…