Science journalists advise minister on how to take independent advice

December 10, 2009

A group of UK science journalists has met privately with Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, to advise on the principles that should underpin the relationship between the Government and independent scientific advisers.

The meeting last week follows the sacking in October of drugs adviser David Nutt by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary. A group of 14 science journalists were invited, representing the BBC, the Daily Mail, The Times, The Guardian and other organisations.

Times Higher Education was also invited but did not attend the meeting, which participants agreed not to report on.

The involvement of the press in such a sensitive matter is likely to raise eyebrows in some quarters, but others in the sector have welcomed it, arguing that journalists will be strong advocates for researchers.

John Tulloch, head of the University of Lincoln's School of Journalism and co-director of its Centre for Media Policy, Regulation and Ethics, said the question of whether journalists should be consulted on science policy was "interesting".

Although he did not see that close involvement "necessarily compromises their independence", he added that, in general "we should be wary of cosy lobby arrangements".

Professor Nutt, whose sacking prompted Lord Drayson's review of the principles governing the relationship between scientists and the Government, backed the move. "Science journalists would surely be on the side of scientists," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the meeting was one of a series being held by Lord Drayson to inform the principles.

She added that many of the concerns expressed in the wake of Professor Nutt's sacking had centred on communication and advisers' freedom to speak to the press.

Lord Drayson has argued that the British media are the "best in the world" at covering science. At the World Conference of Science Journalists this summer, he said this was because specialist science journalists were usually in charge of the stories.

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