Hey, Osborne! Leave our Geeks Alone!
DR EMILY BALDWIN
Posted: 11 October 2010
Two thousand scientists descended upon The Treasury in London on Saturday to protest against the rumoured twenty-five percent cuts that the science spending budget is facing in next week's Comprehensive Spending Review.
"No more Dr Nice Guy" joined "We need a fair share of the pi", "Science, it beats living in a cave" and "Banks don't cure diseases", as some of the official Science is Vital placards. Image: Emily Baldwin.
The demonstration was organised by Dr Jenny Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, as part of the Science is Vital campaign, which she set up within just the last month in response to Business Secretary Vince Cable's demand for researchers to do "more for less" and declaring that tax payers should only back research that is "academically outstanding" or had commercial use. Reluctant to get involved with politics in the past, Rohn reportedly exclaimed "No more Dr Nice Guy!" and Science is Vital was born, to date attracting over 26,000 signatures to its petition.
Born in America, Rohn told Saturday's lab coat-clad audience that she had chosen the UK to come to study in because of the country's excellent track record in science, and didn't want to have to go back. Last week also saw a hattrick of Nobel prizes for the UK – two of the winners were Russian who saw the UK as a centre of excellence to base their research.
And this on the back of a modest investment in science. Professor Colin Blakemore said, "The UK has the lowest investment in science of all the industrialized nations, but with just one percent of the world's population it has 14 percent of the most important scientific publications in the world, second only to the USA. Cutting science more will really jeopardize this."
Scientists Helen and Andy Maynard-Casely bear the weight of Jupiter on their shoulders. Image: Emily Baldwin.
Currently, a little over £4 billion is spent on science and research, but the Comprehensive Spending Review could see cuts of up to 25 percent being made. "If you cut science funding you're shooting yourself in the foot," said Rohn, a message that was a reflected by many of the other speakers throughout the two-hour demonstration, along with the idea that funding simply cannot be "turned back on" in the future if the economy stabilizes – too many good scientists will have already left the country in search of funding opportunities elsewhere.
"Science and engineering deliver growth," said Imran Khan, head of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, who explained that the UK government spends just over half a percent of the entire economy on science research, while Germany spends 40 percent more and France half as much again. The proposed cuts to the UK science budget seem absurd when other countries are actually raising their funding and increasing their investment in science, having identified science research as the key to innovation.
Astronomers were among the two thousand strong crowd of physicists, biologists, chemists, doctors, science journalists and many other science representatives that gathered outside The Treasury on Saturday. Image: Emily Baldwin.
Although a serious message at heart, there was some lighthearted fun to be had. Compare Dr Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat MP, led the two thousand-strong crowd to songs of "Hey, Osborne! I wanna know if you'll fund my work," sung to the theme of Hey Baby, I Wanna Know If You'll Be My Girl, and "Hey! Osborne! Leave Our Geeks Alone" to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall.
The Comprehensive Spending Review will announce the government's spending plans for the next four years on 20 October, but Chancellor George Osborne and Vince Cable are reportedly still battling over the science budget, giving hope to the Science is Vital supporters that their voices may still be heard.
Find out more about the Science is Vital campaign at http://scienceisvital.org.uk/.
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