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Brits care more about granny than science

March 27, 2012

Brits just don’t care much about science. That would be the conclusion drawn by a Martian watching George Osborne’s budget last week, and the public discussion it has inspired since.

Google says:

Google says: 2,610,000 for "budget 2012 granny tax"
Google says: 775,000 for "budget 2012 university research"

PST readers will know that the above screen shots do not constitute a study (but if you’d like to peer review it, comment below!). But it nevertheless reveals plainly that we care more about Osborne’s granny tax than his failure to give science the cash that it needs.

The granny tax is a subject worthy of debate. The anger towards it felt by many groups and the arguments made by the Government in its favour are real and still live.

But to those of who recognise the value in science and see £100m extra for university research as paltry, it is disheartening to see our fellow Brits more concerned about who is spending what on what at this very moment than they are about how to spend a little bit now to get a lot later on.

Ben Goldacre tweeted on the day to say the chancellor’s extra £100m for university research is good, but not enough. “Future is built on tech + science,” he said, linking to his argument that how “new stuff” comes from science.

Following Goldacre’s point, we might say that the reason the UK doesn’t invest as much in science as other G7 countries is because we just don’t have the long-term vision needed. The science community has been saying this for years, but it’s an argument that won’t go away. It takes decades for any investment in science to pay off, and that’s a hard sell for a chancellor to make when he’s spending the dosh of people who are watching the pennies today – that’s if said chancellor sees the value in science in the first place, of course.

But while all the attention was on Osborne, science minister David Willetts said something revealing about science funding on budget day last week.

“As part of our drive in bringing together the business, charity and university sectors, this new £100 million investment could bring in upwards of £200 million additional private funding to help stimulate innovation and secure our high-tech future,” Willetts told CaSE.

So there you have it. More than science, more than the electorate, more than your granny, this government loves private business. The strategy behind the £100m is that the Government thinks it will be trebled by industry. Does anyone have any evidence that this has happened in the past or is likely to happen?

It could be that the Government has faith that industry really will treble the latest science spending, or it could be that Osborne and Willetts believe science to be a hard sell, and the argument that industry will pitch in is just damage limitation.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. robertslinn permalink
    March 27, 2012 10:04 am

    Very true!

  2. March 28, 2012 8:00 am

    I too care passionately about investing in science but everyone has a Granny whereas many do not feel a close connection to science – not always helped by scientists themselves?

    • March 28, 2012 8:07 am

      Doesn’t everybody live close to a lightbulb? Hasn’t everybody taken medicine at some point? The problem is that while everybody has a connection to science, not everybody knows it or feels it.

      We can’t blame all scientists for the entire problem (although sometimes they do come off as aloof): the problem is deeper. It stretches into schools, governments and the home.

      How far scientists could go to show that almost everybody is closer to science than their granny remains the big debate.

  3. robertslinn permalink
    March 28, 2012 9:16 am

    Apart from a distinguished Baroness and ex PM, there is the age-old problem that there are not enough scientists in Government posts and a lack of ‘proper science’ communication by some parts of the media, also perhaps scientists are sometimes not very good at marketing.

  4. March 30, 2012 3:16 am

    The reason why there’s a granny tax is because “scientific evidence” allows politicians to claim that taxing sausage rolls and pasties pays for the science to deal with the health problems they cause. Grannies better learn to eat fruit and cereals and whatever.

    It’s a shame they can’t treat the red meat carnivores of their business interests with the vitamins and minerals that public science provides.

  5. March 30, 2012 3:41 am

    The Republic of Ireland can claim a doctor as health minister, an architect in charge of skills, an economics graduate in charge of finance, a farmer in charge of agriculture, a research economist as enterprise minister and a social worker as youth minister.

    The United Kingdom, it’s just Politics, Philosophy and Economics degrees to be any type of politician.

    • March 30, 2012 6:56 am

      In Ireland, do the relevance of the ministers’ backgrounds have a discernible impact on policy, especially in science?

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