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Geeks call for slow-burning cash

May 11, 2012

The Geek Manifesto by Mark HendersonScience takes a long time. Our national position on science funding can change much faster – even many times as fast as a single scientific endeavour.

Mark Henderson has a solution. Mark, PST friend and former science editor at the Times, calls in his new book for a bipartisan “long-term investment strategy” in science. But is any government ever going to commit to this?

In The Geek Manifesto, in which he defines ‘geeks’ as not just scientists but people with an affinity for science or an understanding of how science underpins modern society, Mark points out that it is clear that investment in science leads to national prosperity. On this basis, he says, geeks ought to be calling for a doubling or trebling of the research budget. I can’t see that getting very far, either with the chancellor or granny.

But Mark then brings up an Institute for Fiscal Studies report from September 2011 which said, “Failing to invest sufficiently in science and skills can be short sighted. The impact of such spending occurs in the long run, in the form of higher productivity and economic growth… The current economic climate should not prevent investment in our capacity for economic growth in the future.”

Arguing that all parties would understand this, Mark calls for a investment to be made in science over a long time period and with bipartisan support. He says this would dodge the short-termism that science funding suffers from. A long-term strategy could replace any policy that is subject to the whim of the next government in favour, say, a 15-year plan.

I can’t imagine any PST readers, all of whom are probably geeks, disagreeing with Mark on this. But it is hard to imagine how on earth geeks will persuade any government to put it into action.

The book just came out this week and it’s well worth reading for anyone interested in science and policy, and the prospect of injecting more evidence into politics.

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