The Science Vote – Count Yourself Lucky If You Have A Choice

So, after years of skirmishing, The UK finally gets a chance to vote to fill this job vacancy, and the question on many people’s lips is ‘Who will give the best deal for science?” and you can follow the arguments on the Campaign for Science and Engineering’s Science Vote blog.

Despite leaving research over fifteen years ago, I still have many scientists as friends, many of whom are concerned that the UK’s parlous economic situation will result in  huge cuts for science. As most of the population are scientifically illiterate (partly as a result of government meddling with the curriculum), as well as most MPs, science is an easy area to stealthily chop away at.

It’s also an are that people do not have a direct connection to. Everyone has direct experience of hospitals and policemen, whereas science lurks in the background, odd looking people in white coats doing something in laboratories isn’t it?

But the economic growth of the last three millennia has been created by science. From selective breeding of wild grasses to produce strains of wheat and rice, early metallurgy and materials science which lead to the bronze and iron ages, all the way through to Twitter and iPads which are the combine of our understanding of quantum physics, polymer chemistry and materials processing which underpin every electronic device.

How to communicate that to politicians? I’m not sure that we can.  After all scientists make up a small percentage of the population, and are fragmented into thousands of sub species, all of which have been trained (as a result of the funding system) since their PhD to fight tooth and nail for any available funds and put self interest over the good of science. Any hint of improved science funding results in a horde of wild eyed mad men with spittle flecked beards tearing each other to pieces, and that’s before they even get out of the lab!

While organisations such as CASE are doing a  great job in promoting science with one voice, the reality is that unless the economy can get back on track then junior ministers armed with deadly excel spreadsheets will be spending the next few years shaving off a few pounds here and there in areas that they think won’t be noticed.

So who should scientists vote for? Well the only way of getting science properly funded is by having an economy that grows fast enough that choices between the health service, police and science do not have to be made. Unfortunately someone ran up a whopping great overdraft in the last three years that will need paying off, so we won’t be in that happy position for a long time.

In that sense it probably doesn’t matter, any party will be bad for science in the short term.

PS If you think it’s a difficult decision,  in my constituency I’ll be having the choice from the main parties between a Bangladeshi, a Bangladeshi, a Bangladeshi Imam,  or the Pirate Party – I have no idea which one of those would be best for science, or anything else for that matter. More intriguing is Hasib Hikmat of the United Voice party who is a teacher and director of “The Centre of the Cell” at Queen Mary University. So I suppose if science was my only issue, I’d vote for the person who had an interest in it.

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