The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community

The PM's claims to have preserved Britain's science budget are inadequate: we continue to underfund and neglect researchers, squandering our economic advantage.

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On Wednesday, scientists at CERN finally found the Higgs boson – the hitherto hypothetical particle that gives the universe its mass – inside the Large Hadron Collider. 

Professor-HiggsThe development is already recognised worldwide as one of the defining moments in the modern history of physics.

Praising the researchers involved at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, David Cameron seized the opportunity to defend the coalition’s record on scientific investment:

“This government’s commitment to the science budget is without any doubt, not least because although we have had to make difficult cuts, we have preserved the science budget.”

This is only technically true. The Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010 froze Britain’s annual £4.6bn science budget: this actually meant a real terms cut of nearly 9% per annum, so one has to wonder what Cameron thinks ‘preservation’ means.

In fact, the government’s commitment to science over the past two years is extremely dubious – something to which Left Foot Forward has repeatedly drawn attention.

Their track record is characterised by a failure to recognise that championing scientific causes in word and deed yields both short and long-term economic results: reducing the deficit, a thriving research and development sector would also attract greater foreign investment in years to come and give Britain a chance of retaining its vaunted ‘knowledge economy’.

In February last year, the EU’s European Innovation Scorecard showed that in Britain’s public sector R&D expenditure was below the European average:

Public-research-and-development-expenditure-by-European-Union-country
As it was in the private sector, too:

Business-research-and-development-expenditure-by-European-Union-country
Several months later, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that:

Failing to invest sufficiently in science and skills can be short sighted. The impact of such spending occurs in the long run, in the form of higher productivity and economic growth. Being able to compete with China in 10 years time requires investment in skills and research today.”

 


See also:

IFS questions Osborne’s ‘short sighted’ failure to invest in science and skills 5 Sep 2011

Denham warns science funding freeze all push UK further behind competitors 11 Mar 2011

UK’s ‘disappointing’ R&D spending under fire from EU research chief 7 Feb 2011

Freezing of science budget could hit UK’s global reputation 29 Oct 2010

Increased science funding would help reduce the deficit 12 Oct 2010


 

It’s only fair to point out that these failings are not unique to the coalition, but rather a consistent feature of British politics. Of the 650 MPs in the Commons, only one – Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat member for Cambridge – has a scientific background.

Interviewed yesterday on This Week, Professor Brian Cox succinctly highlighted the implications of such a disconnect:

Britain’s political class has not been great at understanding science, promoting it, and to some extent supporting it.

Policy should be based on evidence and what you’re talking about is the scientific method. The other reason that it’s bad is that 43% of our GDP is based on knowledge-intensive services and industry, which rests on the university sector and the science budget.

The route to growth rests on [science] and if people don’t back that philosophically and politically, then we’re in trouble.”

 


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16 Responses to “The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community”

  1. NewsatLeft

    The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its… http://t.co/lfPmEICV #SustainableEconomy #ComprehensiveSpendingReview #higgsboson

  2. Ken Rice

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/lNNRNg3y

  3. Alex Sinclair

    The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/PoSmjorl

  4. Shamik Das

    The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/RrKD9Aj0 by @BenPhillips1989

  5. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/lwd5PzUl

  6. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/JPdTogq7

  7. George Dibb

    I agree with your article but you undermine yourself by supporting it with poor facts. Julian Huppert might be the only MP with a PhD however Andrew Miller (chair of the commons science and technology select committee, for it is he) is just one other MP with a “scientific background”.

  8. Selohesra

    Higgs Boson walked into a church and the priest said “Welcome – we couldn’t have mass without you”

  9. Ben Phillips

    Huppert isn’t the only MP with a PhD: off the top of my head, both Gordon Brown and Stella Creasy also have doctorates (albeit not in the sciences), and I’m sure there are plenty of others.

    I should have specified that in Huppert’s case I meant an academic background in the sciences – he was (and indeed is) a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge and spent several years teaching biology at the university before he became an MP.

  10. Fatmaria

    This is what a failing country looks like

    Time to bail, Scotland!

  11. Anonymous

    Yea, jumping from the frying pan into the fire is always…wait…

  12. Anonymous

    The Tory plan for competing with China involves Chinese Wages.

  13. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/7Rab6xfG

  14. Ken

    RT @leftfootfwd: The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/7pu0zYpt

  15. Elliot Hollingsworth

    The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/nBZRooDe

  16. Amy

    The Higgs boson aside, Britain is still failing its scientific community http://t.co/CXEfym7N

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