Science Cuts: One Day Left

The results of the Comprehensive Spending Review are being announced tomorrow and the feeling in the astrophysics community is increasingly pessimistic about the size of the cuts to research funding. With one day to go until the broad outline of the cuts is given, rumours are running wild that STFC will have to cut major programmes, exit from international collaborations and in the worst case scenario start to claw back grants which have already been awarded.

Peter Coles has a post summarizing the current swarm of rumours, and Andy Lawrence has a poll where you can pick your poison cuts-wise. At this late stage the mainstream media has finally started picking up on the message of the Science Is Vital campaign, that cuts in research funding are a ruinous road to lower growth in the future. The Guardian and The Times have both had editorials denouncing cuts to science funding in the last few days, while the FT got in ahead of the curve. Jon Snow has been outlining the possible brain drain, and the BBC have given a platform to CASE‘s Imran Khan. But is it too late to change the headline figures? The claim is that most if not all the deals are done at least as far as headline figures go. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for research funding, is rumoured to be the one holdout left. Whether this indicates a change in attitude in Whitehall or an entrenched position in the Treasury, we will find out tomorrow.

A word of warning though, the announcements tomorrow are probably going to be broad and impenetrable. Colin Talbot has produced a handy guide to what to expect. (Charlie Brooker provides some light relief in his advice to George Osbourne.) The resultant changes in the budgets of the research councils, and particularly STFC, may not be known until December, when the axe will truly start to fall.

Update: 20:00 19/10 According to this Guardian story, the science research budget may escape the deepest cuts, and retain “flat cash”, in other words an approximately 10% decrease in four years, depending on inflation.


Scientists on the march*

Adam and Gráinne get the message out

Adam and Gráinne get the message out

On Saturday many bemused tourists wandering around Westminster were treated to the unusual sight of scientists roaming free from their offices and labs to gather in protest at the government’s planned cuts to research funding.

The rally was organised by Science is Vital who are also organising a petition and lobby of MPs which I talked about last week. There was a great turnout at the rally with some very inventive banners and placards. There are lots of pictures and videos on the web including some heart-felt but perhaps ill-advised singing embedded below.

No more Dr (and Mr) nice guys

No more Dr (and Mr) nice guys!

The rally was a great success but the work has only just begun. The petition is still open and the lobby in the Houses of Parliament will take place tomorrow Tuesday 12th.

Once the broad outline of the cuts is known on the 20th of October I would expect a further bout of activity depending on the severity of the results. Just today the possibility of a second wave of cuts on top of the original amount has come to light.

Well done to all the organisers of the rally and thank you to all the speakers for making the case so forcefully!

Video of singing at the rally by alewc0283

* Well more of a rally really.


Science is Vital

Science is Vital Campaign Logo As a practising scientist you might expect me to believe that Science is Vital. “He would say that wouldn’t he,” you might say. Objectively speaking though, science research has a large impact on the wealth and success of a country.

Even during these times of austerity, most developed countries are investing in science research, anticipating the benefits that a research led economy has historically provided.

In contrast to this approach the UK coalition government is poised to announce the largest cuts in science funding in a generation. The Royal Society has said that cuts of 25% would representGame Over” for science in this country. The government will announce the broad cuts on the 20th October so any action against the impending funding crisis must be swift. The possible outcomes if a full range of cuts go ahead are quite dire.

The Science Is Vital campaign is a grassroots movement which has been guided from its infancy by Dr Jenny Rohn, a cell biologist at UCL. A petition, a rally in Westminster and a lobby of MPs have been organised which it is hoped will be able to alleviate the impending cuts by showing the government how essential scientific research is to the economic welfare of the country.

As a cosmologist, I know that my research has little intrinsic advantage for the UK economy in the short term. The advantage gained is in the number of students who are inspired to study science after wondering about the origins of the universe and the Big Bang. The contribution these students go on to make to the UK economy through science, industry or commerce benefits the country overall.

It is imperative that the tradition of scientific discovery in the UK is protected. I implore you to do what you can to show the government that Science is Vital. Sign the petition, email your MP and if you can be there, join the rally in Westminster on the 9th of October!