Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

Science Funding: Time To Be Counted


As reported previously on this blog, the UK doesn’t spend as much money per capita on science than pretty much all of its competitors. If you agree that this spending should be increased, there’s now a petition for you to sign:


This asks for the proceeds of the 4G wireless band auction to be devoted to science rather than anything else. The 3G bandwidth auction raised about 20Billion. Imagine where we’d be now if that money had been devoted to scientific research. The 4G auction is unlikely to raise as much money, but the amount should be north of 2Billion at least, and every penny of extra spending will help.


Author: davecl

Astronomy, science, science fiction

3 thoughts on “Science Funding: Time To Be Counted

  1. It is quite amazing that, as a percentage of GDP, we’re about 17th in the world (7th in terms of total spending) and yet are regarded as second only to the US in almost all major science areas. It is an impressive example, presumably, of how effective UK science is. One could argue that most of the metrics are flawed and we’re just good at doing things that make us look good, but we’re clearly much better than 17th or 7th. If we were to just try and match Germany it would increase our science spending by 35% and would have an incredible impact on the science that could take place in the UK.

    My personal take is that we live in a country where people think that if they spend money on science (or anything else that doesn’t have some kind of immediate economic impact – generally measured by the profit) that it’s money wasted. They forget that most of that money stays in the economy. People get paid, money gets spent in shops, etc. They see increasing science spending as throwing money away rather than as a long-term investment that may actually stimulate the – quite important – high-tech economy in the short term.

    • Yes – the statistics are quite astounding.

      I think the reluctance to spend more is a bit more subtle. Part of it is certainly what you say – that investment in science is not seen as producing immediate economic return. But more of the issue is that it’s not controllable. You can’t say that if we put x in here we’ll get y out again. I think one can say that there will be benefit, but not what that will be, and the managerialist culture we have in the UK, where everything has to be measured, accounted for, and tested against targets, that is a problem.

      Who could have predicted that the most concrete economic benefit from CERN over the last 30 years was going to be the World Wide Web? Nobody – probably not even the people like Tim Bernors-Lee who were working on it.

      And that’s the other problem. The big results from blue skies research, like particle physics and astronomy, are disruptive, and no politician likes things that are disruptive.

      I remember once, many years ago, when Andrew Smith MP visited the astronomy department in Oxford, where I was working at the time, when he said he like astrophysics research as it was ‘safe’. That worried me. Research that could make people re-evaluate their place in the universe is not safe. In fact, any research that’s worthwhile isn’t safe, because if it’s successful it will have an unpredictable impact. The Catholic church knew that when they persecuted Galileo. Maybe that’s why our funding is being cut in the present day.

  2. THanks for the pointer. I’ve signed, though it’s disappointingly small so far.

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