Sir: The image of the Health Secretary being in thrall to "scientific masters" (leading article, 30 March) is ridiculous. Scientists do not decide what is done, they merely provide answers to questions. To take an example from my own field, fisheries, what scientists do is answer questions asked by the paymasters, such as how many fish can be safely taken without the risk of the stocks collapsing. The politicians who make the management decisions consistently ignore such answers - as is entirely appropriate since they are trying to balance biological and socioeconomic factors (which is not to say they get the balance right!).
The scientists who warned of the link between CJD and BSE were not ostracised by the "scientific establishment". The fact is that the management structure in government laboratories prevents any work being done unless it is approved by the Government. For better or worse, the knack of being a good scientist these days is not "to ask questions for which it is possible to get an answer" but to ask questions for which it is possible to get funding.
Lecturer in Fishery Science
University of Aberdeen