Is this the right GP for the drugs advisory council?

Neither religious devotion nor offensive views are necessarily a bar to advising government. But expertise is crucial

There is only one GP on the Home Office's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Until last month Dr Margaret Birtwistle served on the ACMD. She is a GP consultant to Surrey Drug Action Team and a forensic medicine examiner. Last week, the Home Office appointed Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, a Manchester GP who does not appear, as far as I can see, to have published any relevant peer-reviewed research.

So it appeared that the Home Office was not able to recruit attract any specialist GPs and thus appointed an inner-city GP. But Raabe is not just a GP. He is a leading member of the Maranatha Community, a Manchester-based evangelical Christian group.

He is also the joint "medical co-ordinator" of the Council for Health and Wholeness (CHW), a group based in the office of the Maranatha Community. Both the Maranatha Community and the CHW have strong views on drugs and homosexuality and regularly send briefing materials to MPs and policymakers.

Raabe has co-authored an article that claims: "While the majority of homosexuals are not involved in paedophilia, it is of grave concern that there is a disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among paedophiles and an overlap between the gay movement and the movement to make paedophilia acceptable."

He becomes the only member of the ACMD to declare a political interest, in that he has been a candidate for the Christian party in the European elections. Reporter Mark Easton in his BBC blog cites examples of his extreme hostility to harm reduction, which is a fundamental part of the way this country's healthcare and education professionals seek to safeguard the welfare of young people and drug users. These are not mainstream scientific views.

I would say that the problem with Raabe, in respect of his appointment, is not that he appears to be homophobic, or that his views are offensive. After all, neither homophobia nor offensive views can be a bar to serving on expert advisory committees or to participation in public debates. Nor is it a problem that he is deeply religious. There are plenty of religious people in advisory groups and engaging in policy discussions, some of them making valuable contributions. The problem is that the ACMD is an expert committee where even those members with strong policy views have them framed in the context of their experience in the field, or their scholarship, and not merely their opinions and beliefs.

His appointment has, unsurprisingly, attracted widespread criticism. It is also not a surprise that in return religious commentators such as Melanie Phillips have weighed in – in her usual understated way. ("Penalising religious people for speaking and acting in accordance with their beliefs is neither liberal nor tolerant. It is behaviour more commonly associated with totalitarian dictatorships.") Nor is it a surprise that Christian Concern has joined her in the latest example of the kind of false-victimhood that one liberal Christian group has called "shameful" – claiming that religious views are being excluded from public life. Raabe himself has said that society is in danger of believing that "if you are a Christian you are not fit for public office or you are biased or a bigot".

The CHW accused the ACMD of being overpopulated by pro-liberalisation experts in a 2006 submission to the science and technology committee during its inquiry into drug classification. This raises the possibility that Raabe has applied to join the ACMD with a conscious agenda of changing the policy stance of the council. Did the Home Office consider this when they appointed him?

Andy Lewis of the Quackometer blog identifies a number of government expert committees now being populated by non-experts. I agree with him when he says: "When David Nutt was sacked for expressing views on relative harm, we were angry that government was ignoring the advice of its advisors. Now we find ourselves hoping they do."


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  • footienut

    25 January 2011 5:01PM

    the movement to make paedophilia acceptable

    Now there is a club whose members you really would not want to have round for a dinner party, although you probably would rather have them round as opposed to evangelical christians - it really is a toughie.

  • Printitdamnu

    25 January 2011 5:01PM

    This appointment is a clear indicator of how politicised the ACMD could become if he is not challenged on these views.. they are appauling and offensive. David Nutt was the first for the plank for giving the evidence... he was not campaigning against drug policy but he was seen as a loose cannon because he gave evidence.
    Yet another American concept adopted for the Brits... like the US has ever had a grip on their drug problem? All we needed was a God squad... Now, just like a miracle we have this guy!!

    It's like appointing Gert Wilders to the Muslim council of Great Britian

  • johnstuartmill

    25 January 2011 5:01PM

    I'm glad to see you not objecting to his appointment because of his homophobia or religion, Evan. The would be wrong and just give the 'Christian' right more ammunition. He shouldn't be appointed because he is not qualified for the job. Simple as that.

  • Gareth100

    25 January 2011 5:03PM

    I would like to know exactly why the Home Office saw fit to appoint Dr Raabe? I suggest a freedom of information request be lodged for the basis of this decision. As it is the man is a ridiculous prohibitionist who bases his views on a very partial reading of the scientific evidence. It now appears than rather than get themselves into the sorry mess the previous government did, the committee will now be packed with people who will give the opinions politicians want to hear. The ACMD should be disbanded, it no longer serves any useful purpose.

  • Printitdamnu

    25 January 2011 5:04PM

    He also believes that marriage is a safe guard against addiction.... The evidence would suggest a divorce rate of about 1 in 3 would contradict that belief... but evidence is subjective in his case..

  • metalvendetta

    25 January 2011 5:05PM

    "Marriage is associated with greater happiness, less depression, less alcohol abuse and less smoking."

    Says it all. He's anti-gay, as well.

    Exactly the sort of person we need in charge of policy.

  • footienut

    25 January 2011 5:07PM

    I read Melanie Philip's article, and can really feel her pain.

    We can't discriminate against minorities anymore; we can't discriminate against gay's anymore; Mathematics is apparently being taken over by the gay agenda (look at the number '3' in Times New Roman font, it looks really bent) - who on earth can we hate!?!?

  • Briantist

    25 January 2011 5:07PM

    One would imagine you can use the Human Rights Act to get someone who can't spot the difference between a gay and a babyfucker removed from a public body.

  • Gareth100

    25 January 2011 5:08PM

    Also I suspect it's no surprise that Robin Murray got a knighthood for services to the demonisation of cannabis industry with his dubious "cannabis makes you schizophrenic" research which is not substantiated by the numbers being diagnosed with schizophrenia (it's if anything on the decline despite a huge increase in cannabis use in the past 30 years).

  • JayJay13

    25 January 2011 5:08PM

    After all, neither homophobia nor offensive views can be a bar to serving on expert advisory committees or to participation in public debates.

    It might not be a disqualification for the latter, but of course it's a disqualification for the former.

  • Neofaust

    25 January 2011 5:11PM

    This is clever. Instead of appointing experts who, after careful research, tell the government what they don't want to hear they've mixed it up a bit.

    The government, after careful research, have appointed an expert they can trust to reach the right conclusions.

    I expected something like this, but I at least hoped it would be more subtle. Don't they realise that nobody is going to listen to anything this guy says? The bias is so achingly obvious it will taint every statement.

  • fistofonan

    25 January 2011 5:13PM

    And so the farce of our drugs policy lurches on.

    How bad does it have to get before you try something different? Save billions of tax pounds. Save thousands of lives. Save everyone's time. Legalise the whole bloody lot.

  • davidabsalom

    25 January 2011 5:14PM

    He may not be able to tell the difference between a homosexual and a paedophile, but at least he's never called someone in football "love" - now that would be a sackable offence.

  • MrJoe

    25 January 2011 5:16PM

    This is clever. Instead of appointing experts who, after careful research, tell the government what they don't want to hear they've mixed it up a bit.

    The government, after careful research, have appointed an expert they can trust to reach the right conclusions.

    I suspect it's the other way around - no actual experts could be bothered wasting their time giving advice knowing that they would be ignored.

  • hypnagogic

    25 January 2011 5:18PM

    Raabe himself has said that society is in danger of believing that "if you are a Christian you are not fit for public office or you are biased or a bigot".

    I don't see the danger.

  • TerribleLyricist

    25 January 2011 5:19PM

    So the government will appoint someone who is homophobic, and who has little or no expertise, and will take his advice, but when a world authority offers his opinions he gets the sack.

    And we're supposed to take government policy seriously? Evidence-based eh?

  • johnstuartmill

    25 January 2011 5:20PM

    @JayJay13

    After all, neither homophobia nor offensive views can be a bar to serving on expert advisory committees or to participation in public debates.

    It might not be a disqualification for the latter, but of course it's a disqualification for the former.

    Are you saying it should be a disqualification? Or that it is and that's wrong? I imagine I'd disagree with this doctor on just about everything, but a scientific advisor's personal views on homosexuality/race/etc should not normally get in the way of them providing scientific advice. Why would a physicists view of homsexuality matter if he's advising on nuclear energy?

  • MickGJ

    25 January 2011 5:23PM

    ootienut
    25 January 2011 5:01PM
    the movement to make paedophilia acceptable

    Now there is a club whose members you really would not want to have round for a dinner party, although you probably would rather have them round as opposed to evangelical christians - it really is a toughie

    Inviting them both would surely be the most entertaining strategy.

  • Pastorius

    25 January 2011 5:24PM

    This man has clearly been appointed to bring some ideological zeal to the ACMD.

    Would a FOI request be appropriate for seeing the list of applicants?

  • sonoftherock

    25 January 2011 5:25PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • johnstuartmill

    25 January 2011 5:26PM

    @Gareth100

    Exactly what I said in my first post. But we should be careful not to discount scientific evidence from those whose political views we find objectionable. Half the population alread think the scientific establishment is hell-bent on a communist agenda ;-).

  • Gareth100

    25 January 2011 5:29PM

    johnstuartmill

    Half the population already think the scientific establishment is hell-bent on a communist agenda ;-).

    I am! ;-)

  • Pastorius

    25 January 2011 5:29PM

    Thank heavens Mr Harris is no longer a Member of Parliament and this kind of petty minded sectarian twaddle is not being mouthed around Westminster.

    Is it seriously supposed that only those whose views on homosexuality which accord with his should be asked to discharge a public duty?

    Read the article? Mr Harris thinks Raabe is unqualified for the ACMD purely because of his scientific background, he concurs with you that his views on homosexuality, however objectionable, are irrelevant.

  • johnstuartmill

    25 January 2011 5:29PM

    @sonoftherock

    Didn't get past the title, did you? Read the whole article.

    I would say that the problem with Raabe, in respect of his appointment, is not that he appears to be homophobic, or that his views are offensive. After all, neither homophobia nor offensive views can be a bar to serving on expert advisory committees or to participation in public debates. Nor is it a problem that he is deeply religious.

  • Quixotematic

    25 January 2011 5:29PM

    Is it seriously supposed that only those whose views on homosexuality which accord with his should be asked to discharge a public duty?

    No. only those who show a commitment to evidence-based policy-making, not superstition-based policy-making.

  • QuiEstInQuiEstOut

    25 January 2011 5:34PM

    Accordingly to Melanie Phillips, you supporters of homosexuality are supposedly conspiring to teach us about sea horses.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1349951/Gay-victims-prejudice-risk-new-McCartyites.html

    She also says:

    For he is also a leading member of the Manchester-based Maranatha Community, which is dedicated to re-establishing ­Christian values in society and which campaigns against gay rights.

    It is apparently "McCarthyite" for gay people to object to others campaigning against their rights.

    By contrast, it is not McCarthyite for some Christians to campaign against the rights of others.

    Perhaps this is because only Christians have rights, while gay people have, oh I dunno, really great taste in clothes. Or something.

  • JayJay13

    25 January 2011 5:34PM

    Are you saying it should be a disqualification? Or that it is and that's wrong? I imagine I'd disagree with this doctor on just about everything, but a scientific advisor's personal views on homosexuality/race/etc should not normally get in the way of them providing scientific advice. Why would a physicists view of homsexuality matter if he's advising on nuclear energy?

    I'm saying it should be. For someone to actively campaign against equality suggests to me some character flaws that cast serious doubt on his suitability to advise on public policy. If he had a history of actively campaigning against equal rights for black people we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

  • Neofaust

    25 January 2011 5:35PM

    sonoftherock

    Is it seriously supposed that only those whose views on homosexuality which accord with his should be asked to discharge a public duty?

    No. But it is seriously supposed that those providing scientific advice are qualified to perform the role. In advising the government on scientific data, it is your duty to be unbiased - this man shows strong evidence of irrationally prejudiced social beliefs that might effect his opinions in other areas. If advising on a particular subject, it is necessary to have expertise in this subject - again, no peer reviewed articles or research is available to show Dr Raabe possesses this expertise.

  • DocMolotov

    25 January 2011 5:35PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • vigdis

    25 January 2011 5:36PM

    We see the threat to society of false gods, secular humanism, the abandonment of God's ways. The Church and Christian faith are under serious assault and the foundations of western society are collapsing.

    from the Maranatha Community website

    Personally, I find this a bit worrying. I am a secular humanist and do not accept that this makes me responsible for the collapse of western society.

    Perhaps the "Church and Christian faith" should look closer to home to see why they may be "under serious assault".

    What expertise, exactly, will he bring to this Council?

  • extracover

    25 January 2011 5:37PM

    "Raabe himself has said that society is in danger of believing that "if you are a Christian you are not fit for public office or you are biased or a bigot"."

    Well, this statment is spot on as far as far as most CIF threads are concerned . Witness the risible comment above comparing paedophiles favourably with evangelical Christians.

  • Stiffkey

    25 January 2011 5:41PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • johnstuartmill

    25 January 2011 5:49PM

    @JayJay13

    Are you saying it should be a disqualification? Or that it is and that's wrong? I imagine I'd disagree with this doctor on just about everything, but a scientific advisor's personal views on homosexuality/race/etc should not normally get in the way of them providing scientific advice. Why would a physicists view of homsexuality matter if he's advising on nuclear energy?

    I'm saying it should be. For someone to actively campaign against equality suggests to me some character flaws that cast serious doubt on his suitability to advise on public policy. If he had a history of actively campaigning against equal rights for black people we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

    Look up some of the personal statements of Watson (who's been labelled a racist) and Crick on any number of controversial subjects, including race. I'd still be happy having these Nobel Prize winners advise on most aspects of molecular biology.

  • Rexel

    25 January 2011 5:50PM

    @Pastorius

    Read the article? Mr Harris thinks Raabe is unqualified for the ACMD purely because of his scientific background, he concurs with you that his views on homosexuality, however objectionable, are irrelevant.

    If they are irrelevant (and indeed his Christian faith) then er....why mention it in the article?

  • DocMolotov

    25 January 2011 5:52PM

    Just what this countries drug policy needs a boob who thinks the bible is more relavent than peer reviewed research. How is he going to advise on drug use amongst the gay community if he thinks they are all filthy pederests with a dirty godless lifestyle, who should go straight and get married. His appointment will simply make the views of the commitee even more irrelavant, they will become a total laughing stock held in total contempt by the people they are supposed to be helping. Even FRANK would tell you that this is a dumb dumb dumb appointment.

  • cbarr

    25 January 2011 5:53PM

    The problem is his views on homosexuality may actually hinder him in this post. Because, the gay scene is liable to have higher rates of drug usage then that of their straight counterparts and the evidence base is liable to be manipulated to fulfill his homophobic wet dreams rather then look at root causes like social prejudice that might drive gay men and women towards escapism. It is also an issue within the gay scene as it has evolved to meet specific social criteria as a result by barring himself entry into viewing these groups simply through his out right hostility towards them he has decreased his capacity to carry out the job and collect evidence and provide a meaningful analysis for the reasons of drug abuse amongst specific sub groups. His views on addicts and homosexuals should automatically bar him from a position that is going to disproportionately effect them and in which he can seek to cause harm against groups he dislikes.

  • FrancesSmith

    25 January 2011 5:56PM

    interesting.

    though the argument you offer against Raabe's inclusion on this committee could create a situation where no matter how offensive someone views were it would not matter, as long as they had expertise.

    which is not correct.

    as our views, even for you scientists, colour our interpretation of facts. as we see on cif every day, we have today all received exactly the same information on the fall in growth over the fourth quarter, and come to completely different conclusions as to the interpretation of the data.

    so extreme views do matter, as their colour our interpretations of facts.

    however whether or not dr raafe's ability to interpret evidence is clouded by extreme views is hard to tell from this article, as it offers vague details as to some views he has that might be regarded as offensive, and seems to want to imply that merely belonging to a christian organisation, is evidence of extreme views, which is clearly not an acceptable conclusion. a more scientific approach to this would be useful, including better evidence.

    the issue over his lack of expertise is an extremely important issue, but were he to have expertise and have extremist views then he clearly would not be fit to do the job. as objectivity, in the interpretation of information matters.

  • Pastorius

    25 January 2011 5:56PM

    If they are irrelevant (and indeed his Christian faith) then er....why mention it in the article?

    Because other have mentioned it as a reason not to appoint him to the ACMD. As is pointed out in the article!

    He points it out to distinguish his own particular reason for disagreeing with the appointment of Mr Raabe to the council from the imagined attacks on the grounds of religion and anti-homosexual views by the likes of Mel Phillips etc.

  • HelenWilsonMK

    25 January 2011 5:57PM

    This is man who believes marriage is the cure for drug addiction!

    Put him alongside Phillipa Stroud in David Cameron's collection of rabid evangelical Christian government advisor's.

    I would love to see mainstream Christians to speak out against these evangelicals

  • JonathanBW

    25 January 2011 5:59PM

    By definition, no GP is an 'expert' on drug misuse; the best that they can offer (and it is well worth bringing to the forum) is an understanding of the wider effects of drug misuse on individuals and communites. So I think the issue of his qualifications or lack of them is a complete red herring.

    This looks to me like another example of the article's author airing his own prejudices and using an unrealistic view of science and politics to try to foist them on others.

  • tomireland

    25 January 2011 5:59PM

    Evan, you are in the Liberal Democrat party, why are you not making waves regarding the mal-adminstration of the Misuse of Drugs Act for a start?

    Do you not accept that it is merely a policy decision as in the home office is using historical and cultural precedent, as in, oh, it's ok because people can drink safely for the most part... Well excuse me, i can grow and smoke my own Cannabis responsibly and safely.
    This is costing U.K. tax payers £38.5 billion a year according to very recent EU figures.

    It is time for you to stand up and stop messing around at the edges, start making a difference, someone needs to....

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