While scientists should seek better dialogue with the public, they must continue to set the research agenda, Sir Aaron Klug told the Royal Society last night.
Sir Aaron, in his final annual address, unveiled a £1 million project in response to demands for more public accountability and transparency from science.
The gift from the Kohn Foundation has enabled the Royal Society to set up the science in society committee, chaired by Sir Paul Nurse, director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.
Sir Aaron, who hands over the presidency to Sir Robert May, the former chief scientific adviser to the government, said: "Science is necessarily run by scientists, but it is ultimately society that allows science to go ahead and we need to make sure that it goes on doing so. So we need input from non-experts to make sure we are aware of the boundaries to our 'licence to practice' and, conversely, we need good channels of communication if we want to extend those boundaries."
Sir Aaron said it would be careless to disregard public expectations of how it will benefit. However, he warned that this should be balanced with other priorities: "The research agenda should be set by scientists, and they should have the freedom to change it in the light of new discoveries."