The Royal Pharmaceutical Society played host to a packed crowd last night as Professor David Nutt was announced this year’s winner of the John Maddox Prize for Standing Up for Science.
More than 100 members of the scientific community attended the event to see the former UK government chief drugs advisor awarded the international prize. He was recognised for his courage in promoting science and evidence on a matter of public interest, despite facing difficulty or hostility in doing so.
The prize, now in its second year, is a joint initiative of Nature, the Kohn Foundation, and the charity Sense About Science. Sir John Maddox, former editor of Nature for 22 years, whose name the prize commemorates, was a passionate and tireless champion and defender of science, engaging with difficult debates and inspiring others to do the same.
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 United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world, and his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism.
The Awards has so far featured onNewsnight (36.30 – 45.52), including a live interview with Professor Nutt and judge Colin Blakemore, as well as the Guardian, the Conversation, Yahoo News and Imperial College London.
One of the judging panel, Colin Blakemore, a neurobiologist and former Chief Executive of the British Medical Research Council, said: “The prize recognises Professor Nutt’s exceptional strength of character and his personal commitment to the open presentation of scientific evidence.”
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. 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.
On winning the award, he quipped: “I haven’t won a prize before, other than coming second to Banksy in the Bristolian of the year awards 2010.”
“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.”
Professor Nutt follows Professor Simon Wessely and Shi-min Fang who were the two winners of the inaugural 2012 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. He received a certificate and £2,000.