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Missed opportunity for funding forum

February 22, 2012

This week’s Science Weekly podcast from the Guardian brought together some of the big players in science policy and funding for a one-off special – “What role should science play in politics?”

Host Alok Jha curated the views of science minister David Willetts, director of CaSE Imran Khan, Dr Rob Doubleday and Dr Chris Tyler from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy and Mark Henderson, head of communications at the Wellcome Trust and former science editor at The Times.

The guests examined the evolution of evidence-based policy, the role of chief scientific advisers (a subject previously covered by Purse String Theory) and how effective science has been at informing policy.

Where’s the funding?

The importance of having strong evidence to support policy decisions cannot be overstated and examination of the factors behind the highs and lows is absolutely necessary. For example, Dr Tyler cited the recent volcanic ashcloud situation as a good example of science quickly and accurately helping to inform the decisions of ministers on the state of British airspace.

However, just as necessary is the public discussion of science funding. The Guardian podcast was another chance to challenge some of the political decisions being taken (for example, by the EPSRC), to highlight funding difficulties faced by researchers and to discuss present risks to the UK’s global scientific standing.

Purse String Theory wants to ask this: would the Science Weekly team be prepared to dedicate a show to the controversial area of UK science funding?

A thirty-minute podcast is never likely to be sufficient time to explore every element of science in government, but public forums to discuss the important issue of funding are few and far between.

If scientific research loses the funding it desperately needs then it won’t matter how efficient the system is to inform ministers – there won’t be any evidence to offer them.

What do you think about this? Science policy is being given its due coverage – shouldn’t funding join the agenda?

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