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Vote for science, but how?

Where do the main political parties stand on science?

Well it’s tough to tell… here’s some of what I  have ctrl C’ed ctrl V’ed from their manifestos.

Let’s start with good ol’ Labour. Their section titled ‘Investing in science and research

Begins hopefully with a sentence that might as well have been written by a five year old ‘Britain is among the best places in the world to do science’. Sorry? To “DO Science”, as in “when I am a grown up I’m want to do science”? Right. Carry on please..

We are committed to a ring-fenced science budget in the next spending review. To help us do better in turning research outputs into innovation’… Ring fenced? This can’t be positive. What ring, what are you hoping to keep fenced in, science monsters created from hybrid monkeysheepig embryos?

They go on to suggest a new ‘University Enterprise Capital Fund’.  And claim that ‘the proceeds of success will flow back into the higher education sector’. Why would proceeds need to ‘flow back’, oh yes, cause they want to cut the HE budget of course. And then there’s Brown going on about reducing the number of Visa’s for international students. Those international students pay like 3x more than UK students, we need their fee money Gordon!  Oh wait, ‘Universities will be encouraged to develop international links and research partnerships’.. is that by using the connections made by accepting international students? They go on to say they will ‘develop a new gateway for the export of NHS intellectual property and cutting-edge services’. Anybody know what that might even mean? An export of NHS intellectual property.. I hope that means export more doctors and nurses from university training into the hospitals where they are needed.


Moving on to the Conservative: who wish to ‘Make Britain the leading hi-tech exporter in Europe’ . They even got ‘Sir James Dyson’ to recommend things based on his review into how to do this. Because who better to tell you what to do than Henry the Hoover’s best friend!

So based on this “vacuous” knowledge they are going to (among other things) ‘encourage the establishment of joint university-business research and development institutes’. I don’t like this idea, business and university research, might that not lead to invested interest for results, and ultimately corruption and bias?

And ‘initiating a multi-year Science and Research Budget to provide a stable investment climate for Research Councils’. Well okay, but what is this budget, will it be smaller than the previous?

It’s not all sounding dire though, they go on to say they will ‘delay the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework so that it can be reviewed, because of doubts about whether there is a robust and acceptable way of measuring the impact of all research’. I personally am not overjoyed about the idea of this framework, and the ‘impact’ proposal, because it’s difficult to know the ‘impact’ of work before you set out.

They also mention the HE budget plans but no clear direction of their views on this are set out. Somehow they want to provide ‘10,000 extra university places this year’, and I’m not sure this is such a good thing. Universities are already oversubscribed, and the smaller town based uni’s will find it hard to accept any more students when they are already short on cash.

The final point they make about research applies to animal welfare! What a contradiction. They will ‘work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research’, whilst still wishing to maintain the UKs standard of research? Sorry folks, but that surely means rigorous and as-ethically-sound-as-possible animal research.. Okay yes, I think animal testing for cosmetics is wrong sure, but not if we’re ever going to cure cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s etc, we need this work to be done.

Righty enough of the poor ickle monkeys, perhaps that can be a future post?

Let’s move on to the not least equally adorable to monkeys party, the Liberal Democrats. They want to create ‘a dynamic environment for science and innovation’.  So they say ‘Britain’s future depends on a vibrant research base and the ability of innovators to exploit the country’s intellectual capital to generate new home grown high tech industries’. Well that’s lovely. They go on to point out the current problems in the science world ‘despite Government rhetoric, overall public funding of science in real terms is no higher than it was two decades ago’. Yet Labour still maintain the UK is the best place to ‘do science’.

The Lib Dems lso rightly point out that ‘Britain’s Research and Development spend as a proportion of GDP remains near the bottom of the G8. There is no room for complacency.’ So what will they want to do about this? Let’s find out.

At least they are honest when they start with this statement, ‘in the current economic climate it is not possible to commit to growth in spending, but Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of science investment to the recoveryreshaping of the economy’. Well, thank you for not wanting to cut funds at least.

And here are some of their grounded and reasonable suggestions to keep things tickateeboo:

Respect the convention that the science budget, once allocated through the comprehensive Spending Review process, is not used for other purposes’. Can’t really ask for more, well maybe more money if it’s available! But making sure we get to keep what is allocated is a bonus.

This next proposal I really, really do agree with and like,  to ‘ensure that all state-funded research, including clinical trials, is publicly accessible and that the results are published and subject to peer review.’ Well this should be law, if you can’t google it, it isn’t science.

And for the sake of balance I will state here I do not agree fully with all they say, I am yet to be convinced this would be a good idea: ‘reform science funding to ensure that genuinely innovative scientific research is identified and supported, instead of basing funding decisions on narrow impact factors.’ What is a ‘narrow impact factor’ when it’s at home? How can you judge accurately the impact of work before tests have been run? This has potential to impair fields of research that might not seem promising but perhaps will have value later on.

So where does it get good again? Well for me it gets good here, they wish to ‘tackle the gender gap at all levels of scientific study and research to help increase the supply of scientists.’ I hope that happens, we need more men doing psychology and lots more female physicists. I’m sure Prof. Brain Cox can’t be the only pretty physicist one out there, come on girls show the world physics can be sexy in a short skirt as well!

It’s also nice to know Lib Dems would wish to ‘safeguard academic freedom and the independence of scientific advisers by amending the Ministerial Code to prevent government from bullying or mistreating advisers and distorting evidence or statistics’. Well frankly this should be happening anyway?!

So that’s that. All in all I’m left not sure, wish this election could be based on what each MP standing across the UK was like cause there are many scientifc minded MPs out there who I’d vote for in a heart beat, and it’s a shame this isn’t always full reflected by a parties complete manifesto. Luckily I’m not basing my vote purely on the science stand.

Perhaps I’ll vote for the monkey.

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