Dr James Wilsden, Director of the Royal Society Policy Centre, gave the Society’s 8th public lecture on “Fruits of Curiosity; Science, Innovation & Future Sources of Wealth”. This new Centre aims to strengthen the voice of science in the UK and the world.
British science is flourishing as shown by the award of Nobel Prizes for medicine and physics and the numbers of published papers and citations. Overall the UK is second only to the USA. The economic and social benefits of UK research had been demonstrated to fully justify the public investment.
However the world of science is changing and the UK position is under threat from major investments by established economies (USA, France and Germany) and developing countries (China and Brazil). This is at a time when UK funding is likely to be cut.
This year the Royal Society published a report ”The Scientific Century-Ensuring our Future Prosperity”. It argued that investment in UK science and innovation must be part of any long term strategy for growth. This would reinforce our role as a hub for global science. The dilemma is: does the UK align itself with those countries increasing spend on research or with such countries as Ecuador and Czechoslovakia which are making cuts?
The speaker presented various scenarios for cuts in UK funding for science and showed that a 20% reduction over 4 years would cause severe damage to our long-termed competitiveness. He accepted that we need to do more with less, and to align science better with emerging global challenges. However, despite strong support from the whole scientific community for at least maintaining Government support for R&D, Dr Wilsden feared that cuts between 10 and20% were likely. (Note that in the subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review the Science Budget was protected in cash terms.)