Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

Scientists urge respect on advice

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Professor David Nutt
Professor Nutt was sacked from his job as drugs adviser

A group of senior academics has called for reassurances from the UK government that it will respect the independence and freedom of its scientific advisers.

The release of their statement follows the sacking of the former drugs adviser Professor David Nutt.

In it, they endorse a set of principles for the treatment of scientific advice.

These include protecting advisers from political interference and not using disagreement with government policy as grounds for criticism or dismissal.

The statement, which has been sent to government officials and ministers, calls for government to agree to ensure the academic freedom and independence of scientific advisers and to properly consider their advice.

The government already has a code of practice which is supposed to ensure the proper use of scientific advice and the protection of its advisers.

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The new principles also include allowing advisers to speak publicly about their work and enabling expert committees to have independent press officers.

There is also a call to ensure that reports by expert committees are not criticised prior to publication.

Among the signatories is Professor Colin Blakemore, a scientific advisory committee chair and former chief executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

He said: "The priority now must be to rebuild the confidence of the scientific community in the way the government, and indeed the opposition parties, treat scientific advice and those who provide it.

"If the government can sign up to this statement, which essentially summarises commitments that have been made in the past, I hope that we can press the 'reset' button on the relationship."

The government said it was still formulating its response, the Associated Press reported.

In a separate development, Phil Willis MP, who is chair of the Science and Technology committee, has written to the Home Secretary Alan Johnson to ask for his account of the sequence of events leading to his decision to dismiss Professor Nutt.

Mr Willis has also written to Professor Nutt and Professor John Beddington, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, to seek their accounts and views of the events.



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