Science funding, where do we go from here???

Science needs a Saatchi!

Whether you supported the Lib Dems or Labour, or even the Conservatives things are looking pretty dire for science funding. As the New Scientist says in the elections ‘Science is the Loser’.

Science is, or rather should be a long-term investment. However new polices arising from the new government (once it forms), will almost certainly have largely short-term goals. From a political point of view, its pretty hard to explain to the electorate that you are going to cut housing in favour of science. Obviously, life isn’t really this simple but the majority of voters did support the Conservatives, who want to cut public spending NOW. I think it might be hard for any government to convince that public they need to pay for science research.

And who will be in even worse shape is the Arts – who will likely have even LESS funding that science.

but the arts have people like Charles Saatchi; and, while this isn’t anywhere close to ideal, as private collectors tend to support only the ‘it’ artists – it’s better than nothing – and maybe these private collectors will even branch out to support more artists in general during these difficult economic times.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe funding sciences and arts are both good things, that they are an essential part of society, but where is the money going to come from ?!? And how in a government that is armed for budget cuts is MORE spending in these areas ever going to happen ?

There are very very strong arguments for supporting science, which many many others have made for instance: Brian Cox on Space funding and CaSE , to name only two, there are many more!
Many of the proponents for science funding point out that it is needed for growth in the economy.
And Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour all have at least indicated that Britain needs to have a technological future.
How exactly that is going to happen without science funding and higher education funding ? Logically, it just doesn’t follow that you can cut the science budget and still develop technological industry.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems want education reform (in secondary schools), but if we inspire students in the UK to ‘achieve their dreams’ and encourage students to study science – where are they going to go to University? If places are being cut and higher education budgets squeezed – how can more British students enter into technology?

Perhaps immigration is the answer, but that doesn’t really work either in the current political climate, given all of the rhetoric about ‘British jobs for British people’.

I would like to see an increase in governmental budget for science and higher education funding, so that the UK doesn’t cut off its nose to spite its face…


the reality is, like it or not, this is exactly what IS going to happen, if only in the short-term…

so what is next for science funding ?

Investment in science and technology should not be considered short-term funding, but rather needs to be long-term if it is to be effective. Science takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day and new technologies don’t emerge overnight – even though it often appears that way (usually you don’t ‘see’ them in the media until most of the background science has been done, which takes years).

And the money, even for the short-term, isn’t going to come from the government in the UK. Like it or not, science needs a new funding regime which is not completely dependent on government funding. This already happens to some extent with the Wellcome Trust for instance, but its not enough.

What science really needs a Saatchi, or some kind of funding regime based on philanthropy and private investors.

There is an interesting article concerning this very point by Michael Green and Matthew Bishop, authors of Philanthrocapitalism , which suggests a longer-term scientific funding scheme where the private sector helps via philanthropy or in their words “since philanthropy is often at its best when it thinks long term and takes risks that government cannot”.

Agree or disagree with scientific and higher education funding cuts from the government, scientific research funding is going to have to find another answer.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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4 Responses to Science funding, where do we go from here???

  1. Akkie Bardoel says:

    According to this site, science funding in developed countries is between 1.5% and 3% of GDP, with Sweden the only country to exceed 4%. In the UK it is 1.81% … in the US, 2.7%…in Canada 1.9%….

    According to this article, the UK ranks 7th worldwide, about the same as Canada, “but lower than the U.S. (2.7 percent), and substantially less than those of Japan and South Korea (3.4 and 3.5 percent, respectively).

    These are very bad times for science and indeed for scholarship generally…

  2. Kieron Flanagan says:

    Very interesting post. Of course, prior to the middle of the 20th century most fundamental research was philanthropically funded, and some have argued that public funding effectively ‘crowds out’ this source today. You could even argue that large-scale public funding for science is just a short blip in a much longer history of predominantly private funding. But the scale of today’s science may be out of reach of all but the richest philanthropists (in other words science needs a large number of Bill & Melinda Gates, not a few Saatchis – you couldn’t buy much science with the sums spent on Arts philanthropy). A related problem is that arguing for philanthropic funding could be seen to undermine the arguments usually advanced for public funding -namely that private sources will always tend to under-invest. Either way you would be talking about less science being done overall, and science on a smaller scale at that.

  3. sylviamclain says:

    that is true – but most pre-20th century science people funded themselves – maybe we can radicalize the structure so that people buy in ala the Bill and Melinda Gates funding – or matched gov’t funding – or or
    thanks for your comments.

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