A rather disturbing event happened earlier today. When flicking through the various messages tweeted during the day, I noticed one from Brian Cox lauding Peter Mandelson for a speech he had made. Cox had used it to suggest Labour would ring fence science spending and that they were leading the twitter campaign for science votes.
Looking a little closer at the substance of the speech, it would seem we’re reading entirely different reports. Lord Madelson made much of his government’s investment in science, which has fallen dramatically as a proportion of GDP since 1997 and continues to fall despite increased private investment in recent years and investment in other countries. Mandelson states that the rate of growth of monetary allocations would be cut (so we’re back to the flat cash or worse settlements that dogged the last years of PPARC) and that the part ring-fencing would continue (so knock-on effects like the structural deficit in STFC would continue). He talks about the science budget, so those half billion pounds worth of cuts in the Universities budget that filter through to science through reallocation of university funds will be going ahead, and also talks about “efficiency savings” – ie cuts – that will be looming for the future. Then there’s the part of the main science budget that isn’t ring-fenced… This is no different from the bleak outlook Conservative Shadow Science minister Adam Afriyie gave before Cox and other attacked him. Moreover it is no different from the scenario Cox and others have been fighting hard against. To summarise, Mandelson is saying that after the years of plenty, science will be tightening its belt a little, or to put it another way, following years of underinvestment, further cuts are on the way.
What exactly were you reading Brian? Is this part of the reason you only ever seem to tweet Drayson, the science minister, and not his Shadow or other members of both the main opposition parties? Is this apparent change from the neutral position anything to do with the sudden proliferation of this photograph and others on the web? I wouldn’t put it past Lord Mandelson…
I not, on a slightly different but related matter, Nature has a guide for scientists dipping a toe into politics for whatever reason, to help with engaging a non-scientific, politicised audience. After the main article, these tips are given:
- Know your audience. Communicate your science in a clear, concise but intelligent manner.
- Consider other implications aside from just the budgetary — how should the science initiatives be prioritized?
- Recognize the perceptions of different fields and disciplines — for example, some US congressmen have a negative view of scientists associated with environmental groups.
- Be aware that explicit advocacy activities, especially if allied with a certain political party, could cause some tension with colleagues who disagree.
- Be careful when reaching outside of your area of expertise. Don’t be afraid to state the limits of your knowledge on a subject.
- Consider advocating through a science society that knows the issues.
- Recognize that a full-time career move to advocacy could affect your prospects for returning to research.
- Recognize that other factors, such as values, jobs and economics, play into science policy. Laws rarely grow out of scientific evidence alone.