British boffins warn science spending cuts mean "game over"

Some of Britain’s most influential boffins have warned the government that 20 percent cuts to science funding would mean “game over”.

The Royal Society has laid its cards on the table in its submission to the Treasury over the potential funding cuts to the sector, the New Scientist reports.

In the submission it outlined three scenarios: Constant cash with a reduction in real terms, which “could be accommodated”, a 10 percent “slash and burn” option which would have “serious consequences” and the 20 percent cuts option – translating as “game over”. The Royal Society’s president Martin Rees said this third option would cause irreversible destruction and be “very tragic”.

Speaking today, Rees warned that, as other countries invested in research, the UK risked becoming a less attractive option to mobile talent and young people.

Just to ram the point home at today’s talk, held at the Royal Institution and part of an event organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering and the Science Media Centre, Rees shared the stage with five prominent university vice chancellors who also warned of the serious ramifications of the proposed cuts.

These included respected figures such as Simon Gaskell of Queen Mary, University of London, who said the move threatened to harm the UK’s pool of natural talent. Meanwhile, Andy Haines of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine pointed out that health research would suffer, especially as other countries such as the US and China were actually investing more in research and development.

Academics also told the New Scientist that they were worried that the government didn’t seem to be able to grasp the long-term nature of scientific research – and that the idea of cutting funding was out of step with other major economies.

The comments followed a warning yesterday from the head honcho on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that the UK faced a “brain drain” if proposed funding cuts were to go ahead. In a letter to the science minister David Willetts, Lord Krebs said scientists were likely to head overseas for more attractive positions and pay.

All we can do now is wait until the Government’s 2010 Spending Review – due next month – to find out how deep the cuts will be. But all government departments have been told to prepare for cuts of at least 25 percent in their budgets.

Sadly, this belt tightening threatens one of the things Britain currently does well. We can punch above our weight when it comes to science and research and this translates as positive news for the economy. 

Start slashing the funding and we risk no longer being able to attract or keep the best brains in the business.

Why ditch investment in something we’re actually good at.