Boldly going where no-one has gone before!
As I’ve been leading the TUC’s development of science policy for a few years, it would be remiss of me to let today pass without wishing the best of luck to the many physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, on the French-Swiss border. Today is the day that scientists at CERN will attempt to collide beams of protons at high energy. The aim is to recreate conditions that occured microseconds after the Big Bang, when the earth was formed.
This is the most important scientific project since the Moon landings. It would not have been possible without the work of thousands of physicists, many of them trade union members, from the UK and across Europe.
It is particularly timely that, in the UK, today’s development coincides with the beginning of a General Election campaign. That campaign is likely to be dominated by arguments about cutting the deficit, securing the economic recovery, jobs, immigration and crime. Science will no doubt come much lower down the pecking order. Yet whoever forms the Government after 6th May, I hope they give scientific endeavour the priority it deserves.
Britain’s public spending on science has doubled in real terms over the past 10 years, to more than £6bn. That’s impressive, whichever way you look at it. Gordon Brown has recognised the value of science to building a modern economy. We have an excellent Science Minister in Paul Drayson, who has worked with the TUC in recent months.
Yet science has also suffered funding shortfalls. This has hit programmes including research into breast cancer, agri-engineering and animal diseases. Research into climate change, pollution and diversity all face substantial cuts.
Meanwhile, Adam Afriyie, the Conservative Science Spokesman, was quoted in the London Evening Standard on 8th February as saying: “Right now, our country is virtually bankrupt, so major science budget cuts are inevitable.”
Trade unionists take a close interest in science. After all, it was a member of a TUC-affiliated union, Prospect, who, while working at the British Antarctic Survey, discovered the hole in the ozone layer. So we will be watching all three parties over the coming month, as they set out their pitch to run the country. For us, the biggest priority is entrenching the recovery. After that, it is building an economy, based on modern, high tech, high skill industries, that can compete in the era of globalisation. It’s difficult to understand how that can happen without continued investment in science.
Add in the need to attract more kids to study science and the role of science as a fundamental part of human endeavour, and the case for science is very strong. Politicians, please take note!