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Science is Vital – a letter to my MP

October 10, 2010

Once again, I thought I’d attempt a letter to my MP, Chris White. The last letter didn’t get a response as far as I can remember, but maybe that was because I sent it just after the election – perhaps it got lost somewhere. This one is about the Science is Vital campaign, which is concerned about the potentially devastating effect of cuts in science funding. It’s based on a sample letter on their site, if past experience is anything to go by I’ll notice an embarrassing typo or slip in it somewhere and spend some time kicking myself.

Dear Chris White

As one of your constituents, I am writing to urge you to defend the cause of UK science against the budget cuts due to be announced in the near future. To that end, I would like you to:

1) sign Early Day Motion 767 – Science is Vital (http://bit.ly/edm767)
2) sign the Science is Vital petition – (http://scienceisvital.org.uk/sign-the-petition)
3) attend a lobby in Parliament on 12th October (15.30, Committee Room 10).

Britain’s great scientific tradition has brought us prestige together with economic and social benefits. In addition to the laudable goal of increasing the sum of human knowledge, it has brought practical benefits to UK industry, promoting growth and creating jobs. You will no doubt be aware that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at your alma mater, the University of Manchester, have recently been awarded the Nobel prize for physics for their work on grapheme – research which is likely to have important industrial applications.

I am concerned that the Government will choose to cut science funding for short-term financial expediency, paying little heed to the dismal and possibly irreversible long-term consequences. In particular, I believe that:

1) The economy will suffer direct harm with fewer hi-tech companies spun-off from academic research, and those that exist moving their activities abroad to keep close to the research and researchers that feed them.

2) Many investments already made in facilities and people will be wasted. Researchers will not stand about idly – they will move abroad and we will lose a generation of researchers who might otherwise be an asset to our economy a few years down the line. Such a loss will not be easy to remedy (indeed, it might not be possible fully to undo the damage)

3) The cuts will not actually eliminate waste. Given the fierce rivalry between competing groups of researchers, it seems unlikely that there’s much waste in the system to eliminate. It’s much more likely that the overall quality of our research output will be diminished. We certainly shouldn’t be in the business of trying to pick winners – many beneficial research outcomes couldn’t have been anticipated in advance.

The Science is Vital [http://scienceisvital.org.uk/] coalition, along with the Campaign for Science and Engineering [http://www.sciencecampaign.org.uk], are calling upon the Government to set out a supportive strategy, including public investment goals above or at least in step with economic growth. Without such investment and commitment the UK risks its international reputation, its market share of high-tech manufacturing and services, the ability to respond to urgent and long-term national scientific challenges, and the economic recovery.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

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