Thursday, October 30, 2014

Drugs and logic (or lack of same)

Reading and listening to reports in the media today which respond to a Home Office study on the effectiveness of different drugs policies, it seems that some journalists and commentators do not need to be using mind-altering drugs to have difficulty using logic.

After examining various approaches to drus policy used in the UK and thirteen other countries, from zero-tolerance to decriminalisation, the report concludes that drug use is influenced by factors "more complex and nuanced than legislation and enforcement alone". 

The report says that it would be "inappropriate" to compare the success of drug policies in different countries because data collection and many other factors differ between each country, and the study also makes clear that drug policy is highly complex - e.g. approaches which may work abroad can't necessarily be implanted into the UK.

It adds that  "Looking across different countries, there is no apparent correlation between the 'toughness' of a country's approach and the prevalence of adult drug use."

This was the line in the report which has set some journalists and commentators jumping up and down as if it said something rather different.

To listen to some hacks you would think the report had found evidence that liberal policies on drugs work better than tough ones. What "no apparent correlation" actually means is no clear evidence either way.

As with most countries, drug abuse is a major problem in Britain. We need to be open to a range of imaginative approaches to deal with it, some of which may focus on the health aspects of addition and others  may require the intervention of the criminal justice system where addiction leads to crime or where criminal gangs are involved.

This requires an evidence-based approach, and the thing about looking at the evidence is you might find that it supports more than one side of the argument. It would be helpful if people on both sides of the debate could refrain from jumping to the conclusion that every particle of evidence supports their preconceived ideas, regardless of whether it actually does.

2 comments:

Jim said...

its often the case with a lot of things. Rather than:
"here is the evidence, lets look see what conclusions we can draw from it"

Often we have:
"here is the conclusion, lets look for the evidence that supports it"

Chris Whiteside said...

The frightening thing is how many people jump to the conclusion that the evidence supports what they already believed without even realising that they are doing this.