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Nutt sacking row deepens

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The row over the sacking of Professor David Nutt is deepening, with a bevy of boffins calling for scientific government advisers to be treated with respect and allowed to speak as they see fit.

The group of former and current advisers has sent the "Statement of Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice" to government departments.

It asks that advisers, who often do their government work for free, should retain academic freedom even if sitting on an advisory committee.

Independent advisory bodies should be free from political interference, not dismissed for disagreeing with government policy and represented by an independent press office.

Thirdly the group ask that their advice is properly considered and if likely to be rejected then the committee should have the chance to comment privately before the final decision is made.

The statement added: "It is recognised that some policy decisions are contingent on factors other than the scientific evidence, but when expert scientific advice is rejected, the reasons should be described explicitly and publicly."

The statement is signed by over 20 very senior scientists including Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society, Professor Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, Professor David Hand of the Royal Statistical Society, Professor Colin Blakemore and Professor Sheila M Bird.

The full letter is available here, as a pdf.

Lord Rees of Ludlow, president of the Royal Society, writing in the Times said: "A clear statement from the top of government is required to reassure scientists in the advisory structure that what they are doing is important and that their independence is respected."

Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who started this row a week ago, is today receiving a letter from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee asking for his account of the events leading up to Nutt's sacking. ®

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