"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 27 September 2010

Go easy on science budget cuts

The coalition government is on a mission to reduce the budget deficit and is looking for spending cuts wherever it can find them. One of the casualties looks like being British science funding, which could lose anything between 10% and 25% of the 3.5 Billion pounds currently invested.
Leaving aside the debate about whether now is really the time to be cutting the deficit, given that economic recovery is not yet assured, there are some things that cannot go on the back burner if we want to stay at the forefront of technological development.
I am aware that everyone affected by the cuts; from welfare to health services, public sector redundancies to cancelled building projects, will plead special circumstances. But fundamental science is worthy of this consideration precisely because it impinges on so many aspects of this country’s success.
If our children are to be inspired to study sciences at school they need to see breakthroughs being made in this country, not abroad. If we want to sell new technology to the world, blue-sky research needs to happen now. The U.S, which in similar financial straights, is actually funding science as part of its stimulus package as Obama seems to understand the value of research to the economy.
There is a danger that Government will try to sell an application driven science to the general public, where funding is preserved for “practical” research. However historically this is not where the big breakthroughs come from. Cutting edge science is what generates the big ideas, even if the attrition rate is high. Cutting fundamental research is cutting opportunities, handing the ball to emergent economies and leaving U.K innovation in the doldrums for decades.
There is no doubt that we need to get better at commercialising the ideas we do have, but we need to foster an environment for those ideas to flourish.
If we must have cuts then science will surely share the pain, but it must not be seen as an easy target for government, nor should it bear an unfair portion of the burden.

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