The tradition of neutrality among members of official scientific advisory committees should be abandoned, according to Sir Aaron Klug, president of the Royal Society.
In his anniversary address last week, Sir Aaron observed that the growing involvement of industry in academic research was making the truly independent scientist increasingly hard to find.
He stressed he was not opposed to this trend but said it had to be recognised that the price of retaining the public services of commercially aware scientists was an overhaul of the system.
An alternative was to recruit experts with a range of declared interests that balanced often conflicting interests to fill the panels which scrutinise scientific policies, developments and procedures for the UK's legislators.
"If commercial links of any kind, however tenuous, are held to disbar an expert from giving objective advice, then the very success of policies that enhance the role of the science base in wealth creation makes it harder for
policy-makers to access scientific expertise: an opponent can dismiss the advice of the expert as self-interested, without having to go to the trouble of judging whether the advice is, in fact, sound," said Sir Aaron.
"We need to proceed by the route of establishing panels whose expert members, collectively, represent a balance between the main sets of interests at stake, coupled with formal procedures for declarations of interests."