Science spending should be increased, say top science people

Science! Isn’t it great? It, like, totally tells us how everything works and stuff. Wow. And the really great thing about Science? It’s something everyone can agree is freaking cool and groovy and that, like, everybody else should totally give all their money towards it…

But now science is being hailed as more than, “Hey you guys, come look at these cool cells / chips / gases / explosions…” – science can save the UK economy too. But only if we give it more money than the other countries in the science ‘premier league.’

A report called The Scientific Century: Securing Our Future Prosperity from the Royal Society published today warns that the UK’s current advantage in science could be wiped out if other countries overtake it in their science spends. The upshot is that spending on scientific research will save us all from a rubbish economic situation.

The report has particular clout because its advisory group is drawn from the science A-list. So this is sort of like if all the people at the Oscars wrote a report together and it told everyone to give them more money.

Science-y power players like Nobel laureates Paul Nurse and Martin Evans, Wendy Hall, Richard Friend of various top global universities and David Roblin from Pfizer were all involved.

“The UK has been in the top two of the scientific premier league for the last 350 years. It would seem obvious that politicians would recognise the need to invest in this competitive advantage rather than cutting funds,” said Martin Taylor of Manchester University, chair of the report’s advisory group.

This morning on BBC Radio Four the former science minister Lord Sainsbury and former Conservative cabinet minister, Lord Waldegrave, fell over themselves to agree that scientific spending should be a top order for the government, or for the next one after the election.

Sainsbury warned us all that the “British brain gain could turn into a brain drain.” If science isn’t on the agenda for the UK’s economic growth strategy “it is rather meaningless,” he said.

“Investment in science cannot be turned on and off on a political whim – we must have a long-term investment,” added Waldegrave. “If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly twenty years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”

The Campaign for Science and Engineering suggests that the science spend could become another issue for the election, with all three major parties likely to pledge more money to research.

Last year it was announced that a $21-billion boost would be given for science in the US. There have also been recent claims from American scientists that they will steal the UK’s finest minds if UK investment slips, as reported in New Scientist magazine.

France has also pledged €35 billion to its own ‘knowledge industry,’ Germany is increasing its federal budget for education and research by €12 billion by 2013 and the Chinese have increased investments in science by 20 percent year-on-year in the last decade.

Patents granted to UK universities have increased by 136 percent between 2000 and 2008, while university spin-outs employed 14,000 people in 2007/08 and had a turnover of £1.1 billion. Britain’s public spending on science has doubled in real terms over the past 10 years to more than £6 billion.