Debate over US science funding mirrored in UK

Ever since U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent comments that medical research funding may be subjected to severe cuts of up to 25%, a debate familiar to American scientists has broken out across the pond.  With meetings on the U.K. FY11 finance bill already under way in Parliament, scientists and government officials are at odds about which types of research to fund and how to fund it.

On July 16, the presidents of the British Academy and the Royal Society sent a joint letter to the British government responding to the proposed cuts.  The societies included studies chronicling the benefits of research funding and outlining the possible negative effects cuts would have.

Other groups agreed. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published a study in which it argued that investment in research and development is essential to “ensure economic recovery.”  GDP growth in the U.K. plunged to -5% in 2009 during the worldwide economic crisis.

But some government officials disagreed.  British Science Minister David Willetts countered by claiming that, regardless of whether a scientific discovery is made domestically or abroad, the U.K. economy will not be significantly impacted.  Willetts is expected to testify before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee next week.

With a more limited budget on the horizon, the U.K. scientific community has begun to splinter as individual groups hope to shore up funding for their programs.  The Royal Academy of Engineering has broken with the other members of the Royal Society, arguing that engineering produces more short-term benefits than basic science.

Both the Royal Society and British Academy disagree with the Royal Academy of Engineering’s assessment.

(British Academy study; Royal Society study)

2 thoughts on “Debate over US science funding mirrored in UK

  1. While I agree that the letter from the Royal Academy of Engineering includes the statement you reference, I believe that the words and theme of the rest of the letter depict an argument that favors funding of engineering research at the expense of other fields. Specifically, the text of point #2:

    “[W]e believe that research should be concentrated on activities from which a contribution to the economy, within the short to medium term, is foreseeable. I recognise that this calls for significant changes in practice but I see no alternative in the next decade. This may mean disinvesting in some areas in order properly to invest in others.”

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