Monday evening Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat representatives met for the third time to discuss science policy issues in advance of the upcoming U.K. Parliamentary election. It was the same cast on stage: Lord Drayson (Labour), MP Adam Afriyie (Conservatives), and MP Dr. Evan Harris (Liberal Democrats). The Royal Society of Chemistry played host to the debate, which took place in the House of Commons. You can watch the 2.5 hour debate online.
From my distant vantage point in the U.S., and limited exposure to media coverage, it seems that this debate was more financially oriented than the other two (or at least grabbed the attention of the media the most). So Sarewitz’s maxim that American science policy is usually science budget policy may have some validity across the pond. The fences of the title are the ‘ring-fences’ intended to ring off science funding from prospective cuts. That’s always an adjustment for those in the U.S. who aren’t familiar with cuts, but decreases in the rate of increase.
I guess the focus was understandable, given two reports released earlier in the day advocating for more U.K. investment in scientific research. But the political struggle over funding is perhaps the least ‘scientific’ of all the political and policy arguments that scientists and science supporters are engaged in. In competing for resources, any ‘expert’ knowledge brought to bear can be more easily countered by the expert knowledge provided by those arguing for resources to be sent to them. At least the other two debates saw some discussion of issues that are more specific to science.
Give this some thought – the idea for science debates in the U.S. was in part to increase awareness of the importance of science in political and policy issues. Budget arguments have the changes of making science seem ordinary. Perhaps realistic, but not the best public relations move.