Letter writing with mass signatories to newspapers seems to be a replacement of marching for notables in a given community. Following the economists battling over the timing of cuts to the economy, the business leaders over what form the National Insurance Contribution hike should take, there is the far more important (though less reported – I’m happy to see the Times did put a paragraph in the main part of the paper to indicate a letter’s presence) intervention of scientists. The main gripes are about the general fear of cuts slashing into the science budget (which has been earmarked to underpin a ‘high tech’ manufacturing economy in Britain’s medium term future by both the main parties) and the lack of an overall ‘vision’ for science by the likely largest party of the next parliament, the Conservatives.
Now asking for such a ‘vision’ as the scientists in letters to the left leaning Independent and the right leaning Times do isn’t quite as esoteric as it may sound. The Conservatives have a website that contains mini-manifestos for various policy areas here. Many of them have obvious direct relevance to science (Climate change and energy; Environment; Health; Technology; Schools; Universities and skills), many have indirect relevance to science (business – many science PhDs are employed by investment banks; the economy – 6.5% of GDP comes from Physics, 30-40% from science based industry; Defence – which involves a lot of research into its processes and technology; National security – the same) and most if not all the rest could be improved by research and evidence based policy. No such ‘vision’ policy document exists for science, despite its importance.
Their concerns are shared by Ian Taylor, Conservative Science Minister from 1994-1997 who, in his guest blog for #SciVote, sees there has been general improvement in overall science funding (though not in terms of GDP), but more needs to be done to stabilise and build on the foundations for a continuing and growing economy.