Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Our EU Money Should Be Given To Scientific Research

Regarding the money we give to the EU that can now be spent in the UK, and the bickering over who promised what, and to where, my advice would be to give a significant proportion of the money to our UK scientific research.

Britain's science sector has been well funded by the EU's European Research Council in recent years, and while there is always a danger on any kind of research funding being overly-reliant on EU grants, there's no denying that Brexit will hurt some parts of our science industry.

It is important, then, that the post-Brexit government spends a significant proportion of that extra money on our science industry. In a world in which a global market is pretty well established for most countries, the developing countries' progression race is likely to be decided in no small part by how scientific the country is - particularly in terms of money put into research, and the extent to which that research can bring them into closer competition with the bigger players in the global market.

The primary European nations (England, Scotland, Germany, France and the Netherlands) that dominated the market for trade in the late 19th century were also all the biggest players in terms of scientific endeavours too (joined by America shortly after). They remained the nations that lead the way in the global market, and were later joined by the likes of Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Belgium and Finland.

Excluding China, which is an exception all of its own, the other recently developed countries that have the biggest edge on the developing world nations are the smaller countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Israel and Singapore, which, unlike India, Brazil and Russia (prior to its own internal problems) are able to advance scientifically with a great degree of rapidity, and become big players in the global market without having a large proportion of the population still at the subsistence level.

Alas, when it comes to popular opinion and issues that our citizens are most concerned about, science funding will be way down on the list. But this is a big mistake, and the government needs to shape up and act on the fact that a healthy, progressive country is one in which economic development and scientific development are coterminous.

Finally, even if the government steps up and matches the EU funding it has lost, it is important that our scientific institutions retain the international relations they have, as the global pursuit of discovery, knowledge and research is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before.  

The most prodigious collaborative science project in Europe - the Large Hadron Collider, built near Geneva in Switzerland - was designed and commissioned by engineers and particle physicists whose provenance spans 100 universities across the globe.

Moreover, let's never forget that the UK, with 99 Nobel laureates in the sciences, more than three times that of the EU per million people (minus the UK's contributions, of course), one and a half times that of the United States, and over four hundred times that of China, is a leading player in the now global scientific community. Consequently, although the EU has lost us in terms of a political union, it would be mad to lose us in terms of the scientific union - and both agents must ensure that doesn't happen.