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How to avert calamitous vandalism to British science?

What can I and others do to help avert the calamitous vandalism about to be visited upon British science? I refer to the huge cuts and cancellations for ‘low-priority’ endeavours such as Jodrell Bank, solar observatories, aurora work and other huge swathes of [science].
Paul White from Shropshire (Age 45-54)

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2 Responses

  1. This is a really difficult one – but a question close to my heart. I think at the core there is one big problem – with multiple facets.
    The vast majority of policy makers have backgrounds in the law or the arts. Similarly, the media is dominated by arts graduates. This has lead to a huge schism between scientists and the public – which event such as National Science and Engineering Week are nobly trying to narrow.
    In the UK media ‘culture’ is now synonymous with ‘art’. How many science ‘spots’ have there been on ‘The Culture Show’ ? Science programs on television have undergone a systematic ‘dunning’ down – just look at what has happened to programs such as ‘Horizon’. Most certainly there is a need for this type of program – but this should be alongside, and not replacing, programs with higher scientific content. We have many superb programs discussing art and history – why not science? Parenthetically, I should acknowledge the fantastic programs on the natural world (biology, geology etc.) – visually arresting, utterly absorbing, fantastic TV – but this only represents a minute fraction of ‘science’.
    It is noteworthy that in many dramas (and in some reportage) science is portrayed as sinister – motivated by profit to develop yet more barriers between ourselves and a highly romantic – and utterly unrealistic – notion of a more ‘natural’ existence, one in harmony with nature. Like the plague, for example. Or cancer.
    I suspect that other factors are also in play. Firstly, one of the classic raison d’etres for science was to underpin industrial development. Much of our GDP now comes, however, from the financial sector and not manufacturing industry. Secondly, the tax regime in the UK does not actively encourage investment in high-tech SMEs. The time-frame in which venture capitalists expect a return from capital, combined with the higher risk, means the UK lags behind competitors in the creation of ‘spin-out’ companies from universities. A number of promising high-tech companies have gone into liquidation because of under-capitalisation. Lastly, it simply costs a lot more to do science than it does art . To give the government it’s due, a lot of extra money has been put into science. The scientific community needs to ask itself some hard questions as to how this money has been spent.
    I do not subscribe to the notion that scientists are unwilling or unable to talk about their work – just try shutting some of them up, but it does need collaborations linking the arts and the media with science to start to get these concepts into the public domain in a comprehensible manner. The Wellcome Trust, for example, have some exciting initiatives in this area.

    To actually answer your question, I think that there are a number of possibilities;

    (i) somehow join one of these famous focus groups
    (ii) start an e-petition on the No. 10 website
    (iii) write to your MP or the new parliamentary Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee,
    (iii) just give up: learn to live with the puerile, the banal, the cynical (and reality-TV).

  2. Hi Martin :).
    Thankyou. A superb response to this fundemental question. It highlights a developing deterioration in attitude which must be turned around if the long term health and welfare of our civilisation is to be ensured. Your thorough evaluation and analysis is both interesting and informative. Well Done Indeed !
    Good Luck,
    Rockno3.

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