Vince Cable on Science: a home-spun piece from afar

They say that if you want to see your hometown or nation in a different light you should walk with a stranger who is seeing and experiencing it for the first time.

I probably learnt more about England during my spells living abroad than I have in the years before or since.  So I was interested in a piece in today’s Washington Post about the wind of austerity passing through science across Europe.  It contains only two or so paragraphs on the UK but as a snapshot they tell you almost everything you need to know at this point and more than most of the lengthier comment pieces you will find.  To read their correspondent’s take that the UK is ahead of the pack in planning to make deep cuts, makes that wind seem unseasonably cold and bitter to the touch.

With the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, due to make his first speech on science tomorrow I suspect we are likely to see a number of articles appear tonight and tomorrow morning trailing his speech and/or putting the case for science.  William Cullerne Bown looks ahead to Cable’s speech in his Guardian blog this afternoon and paints a very gloomy picture of what it could mean for science. 

I agree with William that tomorrow, at the very best, we might get some coded indication of how harsh the wind will be.  But, from a charity perspective, the other determinant of whether apprehension begins to turn to outright alarm is the degree to which Vince Cable uses his speech to start setting out the Coalition Government’s long-term plans for science.  Willetts’ speech at the Royal Institution in the summer wasn’t it – he was throwing out some ideas.  But this is the occasion I would have thought to begin to instil what we might term some business confidence.  Otherwise the sense of living hand-to-mouth will become embedded.  And in that environment the Government will find it much harder to achieve what goals it does have.

We shall know soon enough I suspect.

And finally….since I served on the working party it seems only right to mention the Research Integrity Futures Working Party report out today which calls for the establishment of a one-stop shop for researchers, institutions and others to get advice on research integrity to rebuild public confidence undermined by a series of scandals.  See also the Nature blog piece.

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