In which the great slumbering scientific beast awakens

Scientists in the UK today are starting to respond to governmental noises suggesting that, in a time when other countries are investing in science to rejuvenate the economy, funding for science and innovation here will have to be slashed. Only the best will be funded, and the rest can leave the country or flip burgers.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing on Twitter about what to do, but though we all feel we have to do something, nobody quite knows what.

Sod it. Let’s march on London! No more Doctor Nice Guy, no more hiding behind our work, no more just taking things lying down like we take everything else in our profession — poor job prospects, poor funding, low pay, poor life-work balance. If they are going to bleed us dry, we might as well try to do something before it’s too late. I reckon there are thousands of practicing scientists and their allies in the vicinity — let’s make some noise.

Who’s in?

Last updated 10/9/2010 at 21.20

– Hashtag is #ScienceIsVital

– Sign up on the official Facebook group to show your support and to be kept abreast of news about the protest and any ancillary activities (e.g. petitions). Even if you can’t march, do sign up – numbers help. We currently have 842 members as of last update!

– By the way, we don’t have a formal slogan. ‘No More Dr Nice Guy’ is just my personal rallying cry (and will be one of several T-shirt designs available). Sort of sad I even have to clarify this, but apparently I do: this campaign does NOT exclude scientists-in-training, or women in countries where the word “guy” has not achieved gender-neutral status.

– Essential background reading – please recommend more and I’ll add the links:

Dellybean on the Vince Cable speech

Me, on why cutting funding for the foot-soldiers will hinder the elite scientists

Exquisite Life wraps up the reactions to date

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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65 Responses to In which the great slumbering scientific beast awakens

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    raises pitchfork

  2. Jennifer Rohn says:

    This is actually a serious post, by the way. I have no idea how to go about it – anyone out there ever done anything like this? I guess one has to notify the police, etc. Sounds like something I can’t do alone. Perhaps a pub planning session is in order…if anyone out there knows anyone who’s organized peaceful protests before, I’d love to hear from them.

  3. Richard P. Grant says:

    I think we need a facebook page too. I’m sure we can find out about legal aspects. And I’d recommend a weekend day, or an evening march.

  4. Chris Taylor says:

    We should definitely do this. A sign-up page would be good so people can see that a worthwhile number of people are likely to turn up. Even if it is just a protest outside Parliament rather than a full-blown march we have to show just how near-sighted and dysfunctional government has become before we eat all our seed corn.

  5. David Briggs says:

    Builds an straw effigy of Cable

  6. Jim Caryl says:

    Raises pipette!
    Will RT.

  7. Jennifer Rohn says:

    As Richard Grant pointed out to me, Cable is just the messenger. I don’t think it’s fair to vilify particular people.
    Chris, I agree. We’re in the progress of setting up a page for that. And you’re right, even a smaller gathering would probably get some press coverage. Do petitions do any good? Could consider that as well.

  8. Joe Dunckley says:

    But how to motivate science types from all around the country to come and march on the capital? I know! Organise a conference for them 😉
    I am happy to contribute some noise, and more if I can.

  9. David Briggs says:

    There is already a facebook group which may suffice…

  10. David Briggs says:

    I do not really intend to build a straw effigy of Vince Cable

  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I think we need our own specific page, for this event.

  12. Jennifer Rohn says:

    heh – I know, David. But just thought it might be good to remind people that policy is a faceless enemy.

  13. Richard P. Grant says:

    mmm I don’t think that facebook group is quite right. The march is not about Vince Cable, after all.

  14. Della Thomas says:

    I’ve just got back from the peaceful & very civilised protest outside the Dept of Health, Whitehall (organised by Sense About Science). Yes, you do have to give the police notice and you do have to be granted permission to protest. Contact Julia Wilson at Sense About Science who can tell you exactly what you have to do.
    We need to do something, absolutely. This is a great idea, count me in, will RT & get the word out wherever I can.

  15. Imran Khan says:

    I’d be happy to use CaSE’s resources to help make this work. We’ve already been exploring getting a petition going (publicise, get email addresses from it, use those for a march) so this would be great. How about a pub chat next Thursday evening (16th sept) to brainstorm?

  16. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Thank you, Della and Imran, for the advice and offers of help.
    Next Thursday would be great. I can be reached at jenny[at]

  17. Ian Brooks says:

    I read this I reckon there are thousands of practicing scientists and their allies in the vicinity
    as I reckon there are thousands of prancing scientists and their allies in the vicinity
    That too could get media attention? Science Flashmob?

  18. Imran Khan says:

    Actually – how about Monday? Might as well get a move on…

  19. Stephen Curry says:

    There seem to be comments missing from this post. 18 listed on the front page but only 10 here
    Anyway, yes, we need to make fact-based noises about the weaknesses of Cable’s case and the generational destruction that will ensue if deep cuts are made. I’m in.

  20. Stephen Curry says:

     Ah, comments thing seems to be fixed now. Guess it was a transitional problem…

  21. Chris Taylor says:

    So on the question of who else cares about (UK) science (i.e., to ensure we’re not easy to dismiss as careerists as we all stand there in [metaphorical] lab coats):
    Companies that benefit from public sector innovation.
    – Lots of these presumably? Hard to pin down but there are a number of technology parks near universities for some reason… Pharma is becoming much more dependent on public sector research since their cuts; computer tech also leans heavily on the public sector at times; clean fuel research; food advances; communications.
    Individuals that have benefited from medical advance (medicinal, surgical, psychological and other therapies, better understanding of disease agents [action and evolution], genetic counselling, ‘wellness’ research).
    People with problems yet to be solved? (disease, future energy, sight/hearing loss, future food, recyclables, clean water for all).
    Dare I add science-inspired artwork?
    There are a tonne of websites out there pondering this impact issue. A good list of arguments compiled in one place would be good.
    Also I don’t think that the idea of research for its own sake should be underplayed (that was the bit that made the bile rise highest in me tbh); it makes good scientists who continue to do good science, cross-pollinates to domains closer to application and of course you get the odd laser out of the blue.
    This is a rubbish list but it’d be good to have a fab one by the time we storm the streets…

  22. Steve Pettitt says:

    Perhaps in this case, scientists marching away would be more appropriate…might soon be happening for real.

  23. Austin Elliott says:

    Onward nerds!!
    BTW, as I’ve blogged over here, the evidence that one can predict which basic research will ultimately turn out to have important spin-offs or implications is…. well, it isn’t, because the evidence is that you can’t.
    This knowledge is not new, though it seems not to have penetrated ministers’ and civil servants’ heads over the last three decades.

  24. Carol Roulson says:

    If it were a weekend, then people could come up from places other than London to protest.

  25. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Imran, monday is fine – I agree we need to strike while the iron is hot and was a bit worried about the fortnight delay.

  26. Richard P. Grant says:

    We know, David 🙂

  27. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Great ideas, everyone – keep them coming.
    I think we broke NN temporarily, because we’ve had 1700+ visits here, but I think comments are behaving now!

  28. Richard P. Grant says:

     Good ideas, Chris!

  29. Marianne Baker says:

    Let’s do it.
    I might make some sort of poster, stick it up at work, announce it at some meetings… see who can be bothered to get off their arse and come along.
    Considering the amount of people (justifiably) talking about how horrible grant-writing and getting money is, I would expect a good turn-out, but we’ll see.
    Shall join FB group now.

  30. Sylvia McLain says:

    I vote for a few weeks?  Just so more people will turn out

  31. David Clements says:

     Maybe CaSE needs to change its name back to Save British Science…

  32. David Clements says:

     Hmmmm – in a few weeks time all the UGs at London universities will be back, many of whom study science. Might they be interested in making sure they have a future by turning up to a protest?

  33. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Don’t join the fb group mentioned above! That’s not the right one.
    I will post the official link to FB Science Is Vital tonight, on the top of this blog post, and will tweet too.

  34. Frank Norman says:

     Presumably it needs to be before 20th Oct, and with enough time influence the final content of the Comprehensive Spending review on that date. 

  35. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Yes, it needs to be soon. I agree.

  36. Andrew Jaffe says:

    I agree that direct action is a great idea. However, we need to control the message very carefully — it will be very easy for the media to treat this as comedy — boffins in their white coats marching on parliament is not the image we want to project, I don’t think. It needs to be about the serious harm these cuts will do to Britain (even or especially when considered as the hated "UK PLC") and not just as an amusing human-interest story on the 10:25 London news.

  37. Paul Clarkson says:

    What about setting up a petition? There is currently one for Save NHS Direct. I think if a petition has over 100,000 signatures the government has promised Commons debate. This should easily be achievable.

  38. Maxine Clarke says:

     How about not just a "page" or "petition" but a "science is good" page? then everyone could write a sentence or brief paragraph about their research and why they love it. 
    Otherwise, scientists can come over to the general public as protecting of their interests, or just complaining. I know it isn’t like that, but to be able to state why the stuff everyone does is so creative, constructive, etc – or what motiviates you – would be really persuasive and exciting?

  39. Michelle Brook says:

     Maxine – love the idea of a page. Think it’s good not just to get scientists to sign it.. but everyone. Anyone who likes/loves science can right something. Get teachers to sign it, people in industry, people in the street etc.

  40. Michelle Brook says:

     And I was typing whilst watching something.. excuse the horrific misspelling.. "write something.."
    bangs head on desk

  41. Cath Ennis says:

    Earlier this year, I felt moved to do a couple of things for the first time ever: write to my MP, and attend a protest march. Now, 8 months on, I can say that we achieved… nothing (tangible, so far), other than to make our voices heard.
    However, until the day of the protest, I had never truly appreciated the value of making my voice heard.
    I’ll be there in spirit. March on!

  42. Richard P. Grant says:

    Jenny’s edited the post body, but in case you missed it: Please sign up on the official Facebook page. Even if you can’t make it to London, please sign up and spread the word.

  43. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I have never been in a march or protest with fellow scientists (and supporters) about science. I do support ancillary projects but I think this time, I really want to march as well. As Cath says, there is something liberating about venting one’s passion in a visible way. We hide so much in the lab, and now is the time to make our voices heard. Andrew, completely agree about keeping it serious, and controlling the message – have a few ideas along these lines already.
    And I think that we can make this PRO science, not anti-something. It’s all in the way we spin it.

  44. Stephen Curry says:

     Agree it should be pro science – making the case.
    I very much like Maxine’s idea of having a site where people can register explicit reasons for supporting science. Could garner public interest and also give scientists a platform on which to make the case for the value of what we do.

  45. Jennifer Rohn says:

    We could use the wall of the facebook page for that – or is that too diffuse?

  46. Paula Salgado says:

     Saw a few comments regarding media attention… and that made me question intent of this planned action.
    Although I agree that the unrest sweeping the science field needs to me made public and gov aware of how strongly its planned cuts are opposed, IMHO, that should not be the main aim. 
    As Andrew and Stephen mentioned, facts is what we normally deal with and its what we should use. Just saying (and showing in MSM) that we’re not happy will probably have no effect at all with gov and might get negative reaction from public.
    Action, yes, but aimed at change, not just publicity (WOW, I sound like Evan Harris! his SOLO talk was more effective than I thought!)
    Count me in, anyway. As first step, good start. Thanks for getting the ball rolling, Jenny!

  47. Christopher Hyland says:

    @David Clements:
    "Hmmmm – in a few weeks time all the UGs at London universities will be back, many of whom study science. Might they be interested in making sure they have a future by turning up to a protest?"
    Yes to this! I’ll be there! (Assuming this protest isn’t held before October…) Students love to protest. And also, of course, those people who maybe are amateurs at science, but remain amateurs of it, and of the process, should come along.
    I think the FB page, the group, the petition, and the protest are all good ideas – we need to blanket them in scientists getting rowdy, and people getting rowdy about the joys of science!

  48. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Paula, I think showing that scientists are passionate enough about what they do to leave their laboratories and take to the streets in peaceful protest – along with sateliite activities including facts and figures about basic research and a petition, etc., will be a good thing. People need to know we care, that we are human beings, that we’re willing to stand up for what we believe in. A protest is not good in isolation, but I strongly believe it can send a powerful message – especially if we are focusing on the positive (supporting science funding) rather than the negative (dissing politicians and the like).

  49. Paula Salgado says:

    Jenny, if I didn’t think it was a good idea, I wouldn’t join in. 😉
    But having visibility in itself as a goal always worries me… and some comments seemed to hint at that, so was just voicing my concerns.
    Let me know if I can help.

  50. Stephen Curry says:

     @Jenny – fb wall could be a good place to start. But maybe a dedicated site (bit like Alom’s ‘whyscience’) might be more public (help to garner more prominent support?). Maybe Sense about Science could host? 

  51. Åsa Karlström says:

     oh, sounds interesting. I’d signed up for the fb-page even if I am not in the UK (nor British) but still a scientist 😉
    best of luck and I look forward seeing it in the news paper!!

  52. Frank Norman says:

    I think Cable has found a useful new management principle that could be applied to other fields, e.g. Sport.  
    So many Olympic athletes give mediocre performance (e.g. bronze medal). This is obviously a waste of funding.
    Preparations for Uk’s 2012 Olympic effort should be based on ‘do more with less’, and sports funding slashed.

  53. William Cullerne Bown says:

    FYI Some analysis and comments on all this at

  54. Jennifer Rohn says:

    William, that’s a wonderful summary of the response, and I’ll add it to the background reading links in my post. Many thanks for mentioning the Fb page.
    Stephen, I thought of Alom’s site last night – wondering if reinventing the wheel is necessary, or if we could start there are add to it, as there’re lots there already. I’ll have a chat with him about it.

  55. Stephen Curry says:

     Jenny – I meant that we should flatter Alom by imitation, not necessarily try to piggy-back on an existing site. Create something with a campaign focus? CaSE might be an alternative host since they are already a campaigning organisation.

  56. Jenny Woods says:

    Comments from #solo10 are rattling round when I read this, particularly MJRobbins "When there’s a bloodbath, make black pudding" and Evan Harris’ talk on how to tackle "The Other Side". I think if you get this protest right you could have a "Countryside Alliance" moment where a mostly-unrecognised group of people bursts into mainstream media (not saying I agree with all their policies…just the media action).
    Evan’s point about getting ‘celebs’ on board is a good idea – who are our ‘slebs? Chris Taylor talks about getting downstream industry involved and many people here and on Facebook are talking about groups representing medical research – great idea. What other industries – can you get representation from? the big IT and Comms people? What about the materials scientists – it’s possible to summon up a spare F1 racing car for mat sci exhibitions, that would get the cameras rolling to put one in the march! – anyone got connections? Getting science ‘artifacts’ into the march will be photogenic.
    Brainstorm recognisable ‘real’ slebs – Brian Cox, Brian May(!), Brainiac presenters, Patrick Moore (he’s actually pretty political!), Maggie Philbin (active on Twitter and Radio), the Bletchley Park crew, any sleb saved by a transplant, test tube babies…(I’ll let you carry on here)
    Another idea for reaching into industry and also for advice on organising action – go via the scientists’ unions – Prospect is the main one for research, PCS would pick up those in public sector.

  57. Eva Amsen says:

    I agree with the things Stephen and Paula and some others said: focus on facts, not just activism and attention-getting. And sorry if my previous attempts at wording that elsewhere got me accused of being negative. I’m not. Just cautious. I’ve been surrounded by too many activists who are unsuccessful because they’re stuck in ideals and demonstration rather than facts, and facts is what scientists do well.
    And if you want attention, get in touch with BoingBoing. But you might need a date set first, so there’s something for them to write about. They do cover that kind of stuff, and have a huge audience.

  58. Jennifer Rohn says:

    We have no intention of staging anything that is just sensationalist or doesn’t adhere rigorously to the facts.  Having said that, not getting any media attention would not work in our favor. The slebs idea has already been mooted on the fb page – meanwhile the domain anme scienceisvital seems to be free, so I’ve been chatting with various about setting up tnhat independent site people are asking for.
    Keep the great ideas coming, and do join the fb page, which is already qutie dynamic!

  59. Henry Gee says:

    Something people can do – Cath mentioned it above – is to write to their MP. Measured, reasonable letters that are full of verifiable facts work much better, you won’t be surprised to learn, than windy, emotive rants – or letters that obviously look the same, part of a letter-writing campaign. I know from experience that MPs take well-written, coherent letters very seriously and will take up the matter with the relevant department, and get a response. A good letter, well aimed, therefore, can have a disproportionate effect.
    Therefore, one thing the Science is Vital campaign should do is circulate a bullet-pointed list of a relatively large number of points, facts, policy statements and other things in support of science that might be excerpted for use in letters to MPs. The best items would be things full of statements about money, saying, for example, that but for a small amount of research, we wouldn’t have saved £££ down the line in public expenditure on this and that. I believe that RPG is working on something.
    My MP, as it happens, is Norman Lamb (Lib Dem, North Norfolk) who as a senior member of the coalition (and colleague of Vince Cable) finds himself in a somewhat uncomfortable position, I should imagine. (Norfolk, perhaps surprisingly, is home to a nucleus of top-flight research – at the John Innes Institute, UEA and so on and so forth.)
    Celebrity endorsement? Fine. But please don’t ask Susan Greenfield.
    The March – unless you have media exposure, all this will do is make you feel a bit better, for a day. Make sure that all the TV science correspondents you know are in on this, as early as possible. Pallab Ghosh, Christine McGourty, Susan Watts and so on.

  60. Richard P. Grant says:

     Henry, thanks for chiming in.
    We had a brainstorming meeting last night, and what’s going to happen is a petition and letter-writing campaign, leading up to a march/rally on a Saturday afternoon in London. That should get media attention. We’re following that up with a parliamentary lobby, where the MPs we’ve written to will come out and be mobbed by 100s of scientists.
    Orchestrated, see?

  61. Stephen Moss says:

    Been so busy recently there’s been almost no time to blog, tweet or respond to blogs. Cable and Willetts have this clever idea that by reducing funding for science we’ll all be so tied up with writing extra grant applications that we won’t have time to take to the streets. WRONG! I may have no experience of chanting, marching or effigy toppling, but count me in for this one.

  62. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Great, Stephen! Thanks for your support.

Comments are closed.