The Eureka reception – hosted by the Times – was buzzing last night. This reception was to celebrate the 1st birthday of the Eureka Magazine and many of those named on the 100 most influential people in science a couple of weeks ago were there at the Science Museum. But beyond that pleasant feeling of well-being that comes with a couple of glasses of champagne (and I’m sorry if that makes me sound like Nigel Dempster) there was an additional buzz doing the rounds, as word spread about the CSR announcement for science. First it was just a hint, that the Times had been briefed, but then it began to gather momentum: it was flat cash for science; the science money was ringfenced – both the Research Councils and the QR elements.
My own ‘best moment’ because it’s when I really believed it was true, was when David Willetts walked in looking happy. Would he have come if things had been as bleak as we all feared? After all, it was only a few days ago the talks were all of 20+% cuts and that the Research Councils were talking about the dire consequences to the grants portfolio. So many people have done so much to make sure science did not get forgotten, despite the absence of a CSA within the Treasury. The list of people who have brought us to this much-less-discouraging -than-one-had feared position is long and many people deserve our thanks. People like Adrian Smith who was present last night, looking thoroughly exhausted but ultimately pleased that the news had leaked (but not at his hands); but there are many more including just the ground swell of opinion from the scientist-in-the-lab and the Science is Vital Campaign. One should not forget the CSA Sir John Beddington, the impact of the economic report by Jonathan Haskel and Gavin Wallis, and the Royal Society’s report The Scientifc Century, plus all the associated contacts and briefings. The media have done their bit, including the recent leaders in the Times and the Guardian in the last couple of days. The message from both Adrian Smith and David Willetts was plain, both said this to me personally, now scientists need to stand up collectively and say loudly and clearly that we are delighted, that this protection for the science budget is welcomed; that we are pleased and satisfied – and then of course to deliver the goods that the arguments have promised. Willetts made it clear we should appreciate what ‘George’ had done – a remark that caused temporary consternation in number 69 on the Eureka list George Efstathiou who was standing next to me at the time, until he realised the remark referred to Osborne.
The devil will be in the detail, of course, it is far too early to know what the reality is – of course as I write the CSR hasn’t even been published. But I for one slept better last night just knowing that the future for us and our scientific successors – those young who are planning a career in science, even if not knowing how they will finance themselves through university since we cannot forget the university budgets still face a slashing today – is not as bleak as I thought this time yesterday.
1745 October 20th 2010 I have now updated this with links and a few more acknowledgements to the people and bodies that have made such a difference in reaching this relatively happy state. The details of the CSR are now known, and there will be many wise deconstructions of what it all means. In keeping with the Eureka spirit, I will point you to Mark Henderson’s view of things, since he was the one who first (I believe) broke the story. But if the paywall just irritates you too much, try the CaSe analysis here – CaSE too played a large part in today’s outcome