Consultation aims to delineate relationship between scientists and ministers

Government intends to update rules of engagement regarding policy advisers. Zoë Corbyn reports

November 17, 2009

The Government has launched a consultation to draft clear rules of engagement for scientists and policymakers in the wake of the sacking of drugs adviser David Nutt.

John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, launched the consultation on 17 November to update 2005 guidelines on the use of science in public policymaking.

In parallel, Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, has announced that he will work with scientists to outline “principles for independent scientific advice”, which will underpin the relationship between the Government and scientists.

The principles will be published before the end of the year and will feed into Professor Beddington’s consultation.

Professor Nutt was sacked as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, last month after questioning government policy.

To date, five members of the 31-strong committee have resigned in protest.

In the wake of the furore, a group of nearly 30 senior scientists signed a set of principles for the “treatment of independent scientific advice”, which they want the Government to accept.

They say that being a member of an independent advisory committee “does not reduce the freedom of an adviser to communicate publicly” via any mechanism, whether journals, conferences, the media or Parliament.

Lord Drayson said: “We are working to clarify the rules for engagement between policymakers and scientists to ensure that the right framework is in place so the best advice keeps coming through.”

The questions asked in Professor Beddington’s consultation include the way in which scientific independence might be defined and how it should be delivered.

Feedback to the consultation closes in February 2010. The guidelines will be published later in the year.

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