Claiming recent presidents have paid little heed to sound scientific advice, groups representing about 750,000 researchers and engineers are urging the 1988 candidates to strengthen the role of White House science adviser.

"Our nation's hopes for a more secure, healthy, humane and prosperous society rest on continued advances in science and its applications. Leadership in science and technology must come from the White House," wrote 23 organizations in letters to Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and Republican George Bush.At a news conference Thursday, leaders of some of the scientific groups called for a return to the "halcyon years" of the Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy administrations, in which the Presidential Science Advisory Committee under direction of the adviser played a vital role in big decisions.

The committee was dismantled in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, who was upset by its opposition to the Supersonic Transport plane.

"The `vaccination' in the Eisenhower-Kennedy era somehow didn't take and there has been a gradual dilution in following years," complained Val Fitch, the Nobel laureate who is president of the American Physical Society.

Fitch said there appears to be an aversion to science that amounts to "almost an anti-intellectual attitude" in President Reagan's administration, which ignored warnings from scientists that "Star Wars," the Strategic Defense Initiative, is a poorly designed project.

"If there is scientific input, it's invisible to scientists," Fitch said of current White House policy.

The groups, which also include the American Association of Engineering Societies and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, indicated they think the position of science adviser has been allowed to deteriorate in recent administrations, weakening to the point where it was left vacant for long periods of time.