The twitter campaign most often popularised by Brian Cox seems to have heated up a bit today. #SciVote aims to be the bipartisan voice of the scientific community in the upcoming general election, making sure scientific issues are a decider in an election that could go either way.
Adam Rutherford has penned an article on the events in #SciVote to date. It includes mention of the online debates that the three potential post election science ministers have been partaking in – Lord Drayson the present science minister (full of good words, but lacking in actual results), Adam Afriyie, the Conservative Shadow minister (takes a ‘realistic’ view on science funding, that is he’s a manager of what he’s been given, not raising any hopes) and Evan Harris, the Lib Dem spokesman, who gets all the plaudits, but I do wonder if he’d be quite as good if he had a realistic chance of power, as the criticism always goes of Lib Dem spokesmen in any such debate. And this is the real crux of the problem with these debates for me. The cabinet and shadow cabinet teams before an election do not normally represent the government coming in after the election. The first thing that happens is a reshuffle and so it tends to be more of the party’s present overall attitude to science that matters.
The problems that need to be tackled stem as much from the main parties attitudes to science as the overall funding. The reports mentioned yesterday by the Royal Society and the Conservative party are good as far as they go, but they aren’t policy. The technology manifesto the Conservative party launched today is good on policy, but doesn’t address the needs of the fundamental science that will underpin the technology of the future. There are detailed problems that need to be sorted (*cough*) and the party that starts to mention them will be the first to get noticed.
Investment in science as a proportion of GDP in this country, both public and private, has fallen dramatically since 1986. Whilst there has been a welcome shift from public to private, the infrastructure is not yet there, as has been demonstrated by the lack of UK innovation in recent years. Business has recognised this and a small but significant reversal in the decline in private funding has occurred. The private sector has recognised we aren’t investing enough in research, but the public sector continues to cut in real terms. The trouble is our competitors aren’t following suit – from the USA to Finland, investment in basic research continues apace.
The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CASE) has set up shop with a website and blog to help with the campaign. They invite prospective parliamentary candidates of all parties and present politicians to guest blog and produce reports and statements for all to digest. They also tweet here.
One way to see what the politicians are tweeting about is this thing here. Let’s get Science one of those little tags in all three colours.