Archive for Science is Vital

Number Crunching

Posted in Finance, Politics, Science Politics with tags , , on October 6, 2010 by telescoper

Only time for a (very) brief post this evening, as I’ve been in London all day and got back much later than expected.

In this morning’s Guardian there was a story about how the UK’s banks intend to pay out a whopping £7bn in bonuses this year. Banks. Remember them? They’re the organisations whose behaviour almost brought this country’s economy to its knees a few years ago and needed to be baled out by the taxpayer, at enormous cost to the public purse.

Meanwhile, the Science is Vital campaign is gearing up for Saturday’s rally. An article over on cosmic variance has raised the profile of this increasingly vocal campaign to stave off cuts which threaten to destroy Britain’s position as a leading scientific nation. The petition has now been signed by over 17,000 people (including the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics, announced yesterday).

It’s worth emphasizing the numbers behind this story too.  The annual UK science budget, before the next round of cuts, stands at £3.2billion. That’s everything – particle physics, astronomy, chemistry, biosciences, and countless other things.

I need hardly point out the irony. The amount we’re waging an increasingly desperate fight to protect is less than half the amount to be spent on yachts and fancy cars by the people who got us into this mess in the first place. Some of us hoped the financial sector would show some contrition after the disaster of 2007. Fat chance!  Their rescue by the taxpayer has probably just convinced them that however they behave they can always rely on Joe Public to get them out of trouble. It seems they’ve reverted to type.

So let’s have no more of the specious arguments about having to cut science in order to avoid having to cut, say, the National Health Service. Science isn’t as expensive as some people would have us believe, and it’s not a luxury either. It’s vital to our economic and cultural well-being. Each pound spend on science is worth a lot more to this country than  two disappearing into a banker’s offshore tax haven.

In any case the government should just tax the greedy bankers’ bonus payments and use the money to increase the science budget. Better still, put pressure on the banks to themselves invest in science, alongside other areas of innovation, which we know will generate healthy profits for those brave enough to take a calculated risk, rather than going back to the old game of playing around with dodgy property-based financial speculations, which have a good chance of taking us down the plughole for good.

“Game Over” for Science? Not yet, I hope..

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , on September 28, 2010 by telescoper

Just a quick update on the Science is Vital campaign against proposed cuts in the UK research budget that I blogged about (briefly) last week. The impact of these cuts could be devastating, not just for scientists and their own careers but also for the economical (and, yes, cultural) health of this country. I saw an apt comment on Twitter yesterday to the effect that cutting the science budget to save money was like trying to lose weight by blowing your own brains out.

The petition has now attracted well over 5000 signatures, and I’m sure it will get still larger in the next few days. The march, planned for Saturday 9th October in London is going ahead. I’m hoping to take part, as there is an interesting meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society the day before, which will give me an excuse to stay over so I can attend this event. Perhaps I’ll even meet in real life some people I know only through the blogosphere!

However, at least one blogger has suggested that the campaign might already be too late. An article in the Financial Times (probably hidden by a paywall for most of you) suggested that a decision has been taken to cut research by £960 million per year, close to the 20% level that the Royal Society regards as meaning “game over” for British science.

It is thought that the Comprehensive Spending Review may announce its allocation to BIS (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) as early as next week (i.e. before the planned demonstration), but that doesn’t mean that it is too late. Only after the BIS budget is announced will it decide how much of the cut will be handed down to RCUK, the body that controls the Research Councils. However, RCUK’s budget is only a relatively small fraction of the BIS cake – £2.8 billion out of approximately £22 billion. Maintaining pressure may just convince BIS to go easy on research, so there’s still a lot to play for.

If that doesn’t work, and the research councils do receive a cut of 20% (or even more) then it won’t be at all pretty. It will then be left to individual councils to argue their case within RCUK, a situation likely to generate ever-decreasing circles of desperation as different disciplines are forced to battle it out for the scraps. Allocations to individual councils probably aren’t going to be known until December. Then, in STFC (for example), the particle physicists and astronomers may be put in a situation where they have to go head-to-head against each other, at which point there are unlikely to be any real winners.

I have to admit that three years’ experience of the STFC crisis haven’t left me feeling terribly confident about the next few months. However, unless we make some sort of a stand now, things will get unimagineably worse. The only way the go forward is to show some solidarity, and resist the forces that that would have us turn on each other.

These next few weeks could be crucial to the survival of British science. So stand up and be counted. Action is the antidote to despair.


Science is Vital

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , on September 24, 2010 by telescoper

Just a quick post to plug the Science is Vital campaign.

As you know, the government seems to be contemplating deep cuts to the UK science budget; see also this blog, passim. Cuts on the scale being discussed will devastate ongoing research, wreck the careers of hundreds of scientists and lead to an acceleration of the “brain drain” that has already started. Cutting science is short-sighted and counterproductive. The future is at stake.

If you agree, please visit the Science is Vital website and take part in the campaign. There is a petition, which currently has over 2000 signatures and a march is planned in London for Saturday 9th October. Please do your bit.

p.s. The Science Campaign blog is regularly updated with news of the fight to protect UK science.