Friday, 8 October 2010
Science is Vital!
I'm going to be missing a very special and important event tomorrow: a demonstration to tell our government that we need to keep up funding for science.
There are more reasons for this than "we want to go on with our jobs" and "we want to go on making cool discoveries". Science actually contributes to at least 30% of GDP, and if I recall correctly only takes up 1.8%. It was invention and innovation that sparked the Industrial Revolution, here in Britain. It was to scientists here in Britain that two out of three science-related Nobel Prizes were won this year. It's here that 8% of scientific papers are produced, from 1% of the population (I don't know if this means the world's population, or the percentage of working scientists worldwide, but it's a pretty nifty figure even so!). Science has given us nearly everything we've got in the modern world in health, technology, communications, transport, standards of living . . . not to mention serendipity, education, and joy. For me personally, it was science that gave me my life's work and almost all my friends and happiness.
It looks like it's going to be a huge event - they've been making hundreds of banners today, and are gathering distinguished speakers such as Simon Singh, and guess who else? Dean! Congratulations mate! I do wish I could be there. But next week is going to be ridiculous enough as it is. On Monday I'm off to Oxford to do something for the zoo which I'll blog about when I get the all-clear. On Tuesday, since I'll at least be in the right part of the country, I will be going to this, and have written to my MP to let him know:
On Wednesday I'm attending the launch of ESERO, which aims to use space research to boost teaching of science, technlogy, engineering and mathematics (now, please do not let this go to waste, government! . . .). As soon as that's finished I'm coming home, because I'm working again on Thursday, then heading off to do my second Tea with the Stars lecture on Cassini. Then on Friday I'm heading back to London again to go to TAM. And after that, it's the second Cardiff Skeptics talk with Ash Pryce (please coming along!), and staying in Cardiff that night, so I will arrive in work directly off the train. So you can imagine that I am in no mood whatsoever to spend this weekend travelling as well, even for science.
Indignation (expressed best in this article by Roger Highfield) and gloom and worry have, I'm glad to say, led to action. If you can attend either rally, please do so - it's up to us all. And please sign the petition!
Yes, it's accepted that cuts have to be made. Yes, others look extremely worrying too - take this hideous scenario of disabled people losing essential care. Should scientists stop whinging and accept that they're not above the rest of us?
Not if you realise how much science contributes. In earlier times of economic crisis, Finland and Korea actually increased their science budgets, and Germany and America are not cutting theirs now. The reason is that, as Sir Patrick puts it, "If we cut funds for science we'll be shooting ourselves in the foot." Science boosts the economy, alongside other things. Withdrawal of funds leads to people we've trained, and who we don't pay much, taking their talents abroad. Private companies and charities that invest their research here won't see the point in staying either. Recovery from that would take a long, long time.
I thoroughly recommend this open letter by Dr Evan Harris, this Guardian datablog which details some of the statistics, and the key messages page on Science is Vital. If you fancy something a little more heavy-going, try the Royal Society and its document "The Scientific Century". Or, if you understand government papers, try this one, co-authored by someone in the HM Treasury. (I confess - I'm struggling!)
And if by any chance an MP is reading this, please sign Julian Huppert's Early Day Motion to save science - and our future.