Archive for September, 2010

Science funding is being threatened on an unprecedented scale. It’s so bad, scientists are leaving their benches and laboratories, and campaigning against the cuts. The Science is Vital campaign is encouraging everyone who cares about science to contact their MP, sign their petition, attend the demo, or lobby parliament.

Therefore, on 15th September I duly sent this brief email to Julian Sturdy MP, my constituency MP.

Dear Julian,

I hope you will sign EDM 707. Many of your constituents (myself included) work in science both in Universities in Yorkshire, and in related scientific industries. Please assure me of your commitment to science funding in the UK by signing this EDM.

Here is the reply I received from him. Disappointingly, he made no mention of the EDM I had asked him to sign. It was a boiler-plate response, incredibly similar to the speech made a few days earlier by Vince Cable.

Here is the reply I sent last week – I’m still awaiting a response.

Dear Julian,

Thank you for your reply dated 20 September 2010, regarding science funding. I’m pleased that you acknowledge the value that science makes to the economy, and that scientific research has its own merit.

I disagree with you about the need for the sector to do more, with less however. Scientific funding in the UK already gets less funding than many other OECD countries, and yet ‘punches above its weight’ with 10% of the best publications coming from the UK. The sector is deeply financially constrained, with funding levels at the same as they were, in real terms, in 1986. You argue that the output measure is what matters, not the input measure – but without that input, that investment from government, scientists will leave the UK, and internationally excellent scientists will not chose to come to the UK. The output measure depends on having excellent scientists carrying out excellent research, and without the appropriate input that will not happen. The reputation of the UK as a place to do science, will be immeasurably damaged by cuts that are out of step with the international consensus.

Research in the UK is already rationed by excellence. Speak to any member of a grant committee in any research council, and they will tell you that much excellent research is not funded. I suggest you investigate how many top rated grants were not funded in the last couple of years. In the RAE2008, 90% of the research submitted was rated as internationally recognized.

Finally, I would like to challenge you on the assertion that ‘there is no justification for public money being used to support research which is neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding’. What does this mean? It is not always clear in advance how research will come to be commercially useful. For example, research in pure maths concerning prime numbers could never have been anticipated to be as useful as it is – but without that research, we would have no secure transactions on the internet. If it is obvious that work will be commercially useful, shouldn’t it be funded by industry, rather than by the taxpayer? It also impossible to determine in advance if research will have an impact on theory – theory may be wrong, or the experiment may fail – how can you anticipate what will be theoretically outstanding?

Please engage with the scientific community within your constituency, and at Westminster, to form your own opinion on the importance of science. Please support the science is vital campaign (http://www.scienceisvital.com), and attend the lobby of parliament on 12th October. Please sign EDM 707 and EDM 767.

Thank you for your time,

Will he engage? Will he make his own enquiries, and form his own opinions, rather than simply supporting the party line? I’ll let you know when he replies!


Read Full Post »